Tokyo is bracing for an opening ceremony like no other at the Olympic Stadium on Friday night.

The traditional lighting of the torch will take place in front of empty stands as the city buckles down in its battle against rising coronavirus rates.

The traditional athletes’ parade will still take place but its impact will be curtailed, with the biggest nations sending significantly reduced delegations to march round the stadium.

Here the PA news agency takes a look at what might be in the store at a ceremony that has been dogged by uncertainty and controversy.

Who is going to watch the ceremony?

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Preview – Thursday July 22nd
The Tokyo opening ceremony will take place under a cloud (Mike Egerton/PA)

Emperor Naruhito is reportedly due to be the guest of honour but he will be joined by only a handful of VIPs. The respective heads of Toyota and Panasonic, among others, have declared that they will stay away due to concerns over the public’s negative perception of the Games. Media will also be permitted to cover the ceremony but members of the public have been barred.

Will the traditional athletes’ parade take place?

2016 Rio Paralympic Games – Opening Ceremony
Unlike Rio 2016, no fans will be present in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Yes, but in vastly reduced numbers. Less than 30 members of Team GB are expected to march, and the confirmed numbers are barely bigger for Australia and Canada respectively. Many athletes with imminent competitions prefer to stay away, but the number of absentees has been swelled by those who have legitimate concerns over the spread of coronavirus.

Why are countries allowed to name two flag bearers?

Mohamed Sbihi file photo
Mohamed Sbihi (pictured) and Hannah Mills will share flag-bearing duties (John Walton/PA)

The decision to propose one male and one female flag bearer was made by the International Olympic Committee in a bid to promote its message of equality. In a statement the IOC said it was sending “an extremely strong message to the world that gender balance is a reality at the Olympic Games”. In addition, nations with smaller delegations have been strongly urged to name at least one male and one female athlete in their squads. It is not mandatory for nations to name two flag bearers; in those that do, the two flag bearers will share one flag.

What form will the ceremony take?

Tokyo Olympics
Tokyo organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto has had to cope with a succession of crises (Hiro Komae/AP)

Japanese media say the ceremony will be “solemn”, in keeping with the ambivalent – at best – attitude to the Games in Tokyo, and even that Emperor Naruhito will refrain from using the word ‘celebrate’. That means it is unlikely any big-name musical stars will be flown in for the occasion. Besides, the ceremony has been hit by a series of scandals, culminating in the dismissal of its director Kentaro Kobayashi on the eve of the event due to alleged anti-Semitic jokes he made during a comedy routine in 1998.