Five-ring Circus

The Olympics Opening Ceremony Is a Lie

A lone worker sets up a cable at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang, surrounded by a sea of empty, red seats.
A South Korean worker sets up a cable at the Olympic Stadium, the venue of the opening and closing ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, in Pyeongchang. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

The opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games will begin at 8 p.m. local time (6 a.m. EST) on Friday. The Olympic Games themselves, however, begin Wednesday night—tonight!—with action in mixed doubles curling and ski jumping. Yes, friends, you read that right: the Olympic Games are actually starting two days before the official opening ceremony.
This can mean only one thing: The opening ceremony is a lie.

In one sense, we have always known the opening ceremony is bogus. It inaugurates a biennial boondoggle that feigns great benefits for the world but inevitably means great debt for its host city. The ceremony exists to validate and celebrate a bankrupt ideology, Olympism, which for more than a century has brought nations together to give lip service to the spirit of international respect and cooperation. The ceremony is supposed to be “an extraordinary and intricately choreographed extravaganza,” and yet will almost certainly feature neither Michael Flatley nor the Rockettes. Truly, the opening ceremony is a fraud and a fib.


But the old lie becomes even worse—a super-lie, so to speak—when you realize it doesn’t open anything. Opening, according to Merriam-Webster, means “an act or instance of beginning.” The Pyeongchang opening ceremony begins nothing. They should call it the opened-two-days-ago ceremony instead.

If Pierre de Coubertin had wanted the modern Olympics to begin with a mixed doubles curling match or a ski jumping qualification round, he would have said so. Friends, he said nothing of the sort. But as long as we’re going to have an opening ceremony, we should have it, and at least pretend it means something. The opening ceremony should mark the beginning of the Olympics, just as the closing ceremony marks the end. The games should not start with a soft opening. The games are not a restaurant.

Most people do not get married before their wedding ceremony. In my faith tradition, your body is not buried before your funeral ceremony. The Vanity Fair Oscars party does not occur before the Academy Awards ceremony. The Olympics should not start before the opening ceremony is held. To do otherwise is to live a lie.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

How to Watch the Winter Olympics If You Don’t Have Cable

The Winter Olympics Are the Best Olympics

Everything You Need to Know About the Figure Skaters at the Pyeongchang Olympics