Fifty Team GB athletes to take part in Olympic opening as organisers move to dismiss cancellation speculation

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Andy Murray lead out Team GB at Rio 2016, Friday's Tokyo opening ceremony is expected to see only 50 members of the 376 strong team take part
Andy Murray lead out Team GB at Rio 2016, Friday's Tokyo opening ceremony is expected to see only 50 members of the 376 strong team take part

From James Toney in Tokyo

There'll be two flag bearers supported by just fifty team-mates when Great Britain arrive at Friday's Olympic opening ceremony in Tokyo.

Team GB have sent their largest ever delegation to a foreign Games with 376 athletes competing across 22 sports.

Five years ago in Rio ten less athletes bagged a combined 67 medals, including 27 golds, to finish second on the medal table, their most successful Games in over a century.

However, concerns about the spread of the coronavirus - with six track and field athletes currently training in isolation after being identified as a close contact of a positive case - means the opening night party will be a low-key affair, despite its reported £121m budget.

No fans will be in the stands of the £1 billion stadium and it is expected only 50 British team members will march as two athletes - one man and one woman - lead in Great Britain for the first time.

Team GB chef de mission Mark England will make the final call on who gets the honour of carrying the flag, following in the footsteps of sporting knights Andy Murray and Chris Hoy in Rio and London.

Covid protocols mean only athletes, not coaches and support staff, will take part in the parade of nations, meaning the expected number of GB athletes involved will actually be similar to Rio.

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Married cyclists Jason and Laura Kenny - who could become Britain's most successful male and female Olympians if they add to their combined tally of ten golds - would appear top contenders for the honour, especially as their events don't start for over a week.

Rio had an austere opening ceremony as Brazil reeled from appalling economic conditions, the show costing half the £81m spent by Danny Boyle at London 2012.

Japan had planned to spare no expense on a big statement first night, matching the 15,000 cast members, stunning visual effects and obligatory pyrotechnics that cost Beijing over £100m 13 years ago.

Meanwhile, officials have moved behind the scenes to play down comments from organising committee chief Toshiro Muto, who appeared to hint the Games - which start when Team GB's women's footballers take on Chile live on Eurosport and discovery+ this Wednesday - could still be cancelled.

“We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” he said.

However, the reality is the Olympic bandwagon is already rolling and halting it now is virtually impossible. Whatever happens these Games will go on, even if those in attendance, now restricted to officials, VIPs and media, can expect even tougher restrictions on their movements.

"Everyone is doing their best to ensure that it's a safe Games for everyone," said Kirsty Coventry, chair of the International Olympic Committee's Athletes' Commission.

"If an athlete or a coach or a member of the team within the Village does, after coming into Japan, test positive then there are actions that are taken straight away to ensure the safety.

"When I was in the Village there was no concern from any athletes that they raised with me. They all were just sharing the excitement that they had and how they wanted to just get on and start competing."

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