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The National Stadium, the main venue for the Tokyo Olympics. Photo: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

The VICE Guide to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics are confusing, and the games haven’t even started yet.

The Tokyo Olympics are here, along with all the trappings of a spectacle. In the Japanese capital, flags bearing the event’s official name “Tokyo 2020” flutter in the streets around grand stadiums and newly renovated train stations, a nod to a year that many would rather forget and a reminder of the extraordinary circumstances the games are being held under.

But while the usual hardware of an Olympics has all come together, the Tokyo Games will be unlike any other. Held a year later than scheduled in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the games have banned hugging and high fives. Athletes, if they reach the podium, are required to hang medals around their own neck. The host city is in a state of emergency. Most events will be held without spectators.


Fans are disappointed, but others have questioned why Japan is hosting an international event at all.

To help you navigate the “No-Fun” Olympics, VICE compiled a list of things you need to know ahead of the games. Hopefully, you’ll be able to salvage some pleasure while watching from your couch.

Where and when will the Olympics take place? 

The 32nd Olympics will begin on Friday, July 23, with the opening ceremony starting at 8 p.m., Japan time. The games will end on Sunday, Aug. 8, at the same time. 

This year, we’ll see 33 sports at 339 events, in across 42 venues. Most sporting events will be held in the Greater Tokyo Area, but some soccer games and the marathon will take place in the northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido. This is largely due to concerns over Tokyo’s sweltering summer heat. 

The Paralympics will feature 22 sports at 539 events, in 21 venues, and are from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

Will there be an opening ceremony? 

Yes. The opening ceremony is one of the most watched events during the Olympics, and will be held on July 23 at 8 p.m., Japan time. Usually the opening ceremony is centered on the Olympics’ key theme, this year it’s “United by Emotion,” and celebrates the host country’s culture. 

Performers have yet to be announced but people are hoping Nintendo’s Mario will appear—during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed up as the famous video game plumber during the closing ceremony. 

rio olympics

During the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed up as the Nintendo character Mario. Photo: PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP

Who’s competing in this year’s Summer Olympic Games? 

After years of hard work and grueling training, some 11,500 of the world’s greatest athletes are expected to compete at the Olympics this year. There are 206 National Olympic Committees (NOC) and an International Olympic Committee (IOC) refugee Olympic team but this year, only 205 NOCs will be sending athletes. North Korea pulled out of the games in April over coronavirus concerns. In June, just a month before the games, Samoa also withdrew some of its weightlifting athletes. United States tennis star Serena Williams did not go into detail when she announced that she’d be sitting out this year’s Olympics, but said in the past that travel restrictions that would prevent her from bringing her daughter could affect her decision. 

Who can watch the Olympic Games live?

Foreign spectators have been banned from attending the Olympic Games since March. On July 8, Olympic organizers announced restrictions that bar more domestic fans too—all venues in the greater Tokyo area will be without an audience. 

As Tokyo entered its fourth state of emergency on July 12, organizers have had to revise spectator guidelines to prevent another surge in COVID-19 cases. Fukushima Prefecture, which will hold the baseball and softball tournaments, and Hokkaido Prefecture, where the marathon and soccer games will take place, have also decided to ban attendees. Miyagi, Shizuoka and Ibaraki Prefecture will continue to hold events with a limited number of spectators. 

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Most Olympic events will be held without spectators this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Photo: PHILIP FONG / AFP

So then how do people still show support for their favorite athletes? 

Lucky for sports fans, there are ways to cheer on Olympians besides sending a barrage of DMs. 

Through the Fan Video Matrix, viewers can send in five-second reaction videos that will be displayed inside venues. 

The Cheer Map, available on some broadcasters, allows fans to virtually clap or click on a cheer button. This cheering will be featured on a virtual map inside some venues to show where in the world people are firing up from. 

Athlete Moment - Family & Friends, another virtual feature appearing in some venues,  allows athletes to interact live with their loved ones, right after competing. 

The Tokyo 2020 FanZone also brings a different kind of experience to the Games. Now, fans can play Olympics trivia to win prizes. They can create the ultimate fantasy Olympic team through the Fantasy Challenge by selecting their 10 favorite individual athletes. Bracket Challenge works similarly, just with team sports. And like fantasy football, they can compete with friends. Meanwhile, Magic Moments lets fans vote on their favorite highlights from past Olympics. 

How can I watch the Tokyo Olympic Games? 

Given that most spectators are banned from attending this year’s Olympics, streaming services are expected to be a heavily-relied on window into Tokyo 2020. 

Most national broadcasters will be airing coverage. From the U.S., you can watch Olympics coverage on NBC’s Peacock streaming service, NBC Sports, and the NBC Olympics website. This U.S. broadcaster has televised the games since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. 


Complementary coverage, such as athlete interviews and game highlights, will also be aired on the Olympic Channel. This is an accessible platform for anyone around the world. 

What new sports are debuting at the Tokyo Olympics?

Karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing will be featured for the first time this year. 

Karate, originally a martial art from Okinawa, has been seeking a spot in the Olympics since the 1970s. The two featured disciplines will be kata, the demonstration discipline where an Olympian’s techniques are judged, and kumite, the fighting discipline. 

Skateboarding will feature two categories: Park and street. Park competitions will be held in a dome-like concrete structure, where skaters have 45 seconds to demonstrate their tricks. Street will feature a park with rails, stairs, and other features typically seen in skateparks. 

Sport climbing will feature three disciplines: Speed, bouldering, and lead. For speed, two athletes will compete head-to-head to see who reaches the top fastest. During bouldering, Olympians have 4 minutes to climb as many routes on the 4-meter (13-foot) wall as possible. It’s also the only discipline without a safety rope. The lead category gives athletes 6 minutes to climb a 15-meter (49-foot) wall. They only have one chance to get to the highest spot possible. Given that sports climbing is a single event, climbers are expected to compete in all three disciplines. 


For surfing, athletes will be judged by a five-person panel. Each wave a surfer rides will be given a score from 1 to 10. The lowest and highest score will be thrown out and the average of the three remaining scores will be their overall score. Surfers can ride an unlimited number of waves. 

Men’s baseball and women’s softball will also return this year after a hiatus from the last two Summer Games. 

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Sport climbing is one of four new sports this year. Pictured is French climber Bassa Mawem. Photo: PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

What are the COVID-19 restrictions in place during the Olympics?

Athletes must keep 2 meters (6.6 feet) of distance between each other. Socializing with athletes who aren’t on the contact tracing list is discouraged. They must be tested for COVID-19 daily upon arrival and may have their locations traced with a GPS. 

Within the Olympic Village, where most athletes will be staying, masks must be worn at all times, except during meals. Alcohol is allowed, but they must drink it in their rooms. The Olympics are known to be a breeding ground for one night stands, and Olympic organizers have customarily handed out condoms to supply demand. But with social distancing guidelines in place, organizers said condoms should instead be taken home as souvenirs

All other personnel, including Olympic staff and media, are expected to comply to similar rules. Breaking restrictions could result in a warning, permanent expulsion, or fines. 

What will Olympians eat during the games?

An athlete’s diet will differ, depending on what their body needs for strength and endurance. But unlike any other Olympics, athletes aren’t allowed to venture outside designated areas this time. This means that a lot, if not all, of their food will be provided to them by the Olympic Village, the residential area athletes are staying in. 

The cafeteria in the village expects to serve 48,000 meals per day, with 700 menu options. There will be Western, Japanese, and other Asian cuisine to bring local tastes within the enclave, according to AFP


Athletes can expect ramen, udon, grilled wagyu beef, tempura, takoyaki (octopus-filled battered balls), and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), but no sushi, according to the news agency. Safety regulations prohibit chefs from serving the widely acclaimed raw fish. 

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Okonomiyaki, savory Japanese pancakes, will be served at the Olympic Village this year. Photo: Natasha Breen / REDA&CO / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What the heck is Tokyo 2020’s mascot?

The mascot’s name is MIRAITOWA, and has the vague potential to be a ​​Pokémon, maybe. The blue creature can teleport and has a personality that’s inspired by the Japanese proverb, “learn from the past and develop new ideas.” Not a surprise really, given its name—“mirai” means future and “towa” means eternity.

It’s pink companion, SOMEITY, represents the Paralympics. It can fly, use sensors on the side of its head for telepathy, and move objects without touching them. Apparently, it’s a calm and quiet presence, “guided by great inner strength.” It’s name comes from “so mighty” and “somei yoshino,” a type of cherry blossom. 

Who’s making money from this year’s Olympics? 

Jeff Shell, the CEO of NBCUniversal, actually predicted that this year’s Olympics could be the most profitable ever for the broadcast, according to Reuters

It sold more than $1.25 billion in ads, more so than any other Olympics, and has planned about 7,000 hours in programming. It also paid the IOC $7.65 billion to extend broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032—about 75 percent of the IOC’s income actually comes from broadcast rights. 

Japan, on the other hand, will be hosting what some say is the most expensive Olympics in history. Officials say it will cost $15.4 billion to hold the games, but some national auditors, as well as a University of Oxford study released last year, said that number could be higher. 

Have the Olympics been canceled before? 

Yes, only three times—in 1916, 1940 and 1944—all because of World Wars. The Tokyo Olympics is the first one during peacetime to have been postponed. 

The 1940 Summer Olympics were also supposed to be held in Tokyo, but Japan’s military government at the time did not want to fund competitions during its war with China. It was moved to Helsinki, Finland, but eventually canceled due to World War II. The last time Tokyo held the Olympics was in 1964, around the same time Beatlemania hit the U.S. and Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published. 

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