If you’ve ever watched even one Olympics opening ceremony, you’ve probably noticed something particular about the Parade of Nations: Greece always walks in first. No matter where the Olympics are held, the Greek delegation traditionally enters first, and there’s a very simple explanation for this.
As NBC Sports has reported, Greece’s position of honor in the Parade of Nations is a tribute to its history as the birthplace of the ancient Olympics, as well as the host of the first modern Olympics in 1896. At every Olympics, the Greek delegation leads the way, followed then by all the other nations in alphabetical order according to the host nation’s language, with the host nation entering last. A tradition has also developed of honoring upcoming Olympic host nations by having them move to the end of the order, just in front of the host nation. For instance, this year in Tokyo, the US delegation entered third-to-last, as hosts of the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles; followed by France, which will host the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris; and finally, the Japanese delegation.
At this year’s Tokyo Olympics, as at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, there’s also a delegation called the Refugee Olympic Team. As its name suggests, this group is comprised of international athletes who have been forced to flee their home countries; they enter under the Olympic flag. Unlike 2016, when this team entered second-to-last, this year’s Refugee team entered second overall, just behind Greece and before the alphabetical entrance.
Since the modern Olympics first began over a century ago, Greece has only moved out of their first position once. In 2004, the Summer Olympics returned to the birthplace of the Olympics in Athens, making Greece the host country. In that case, where they had the traditional “right” to enter both first and last, they did something a little different. The Greek flag-bearer entered first, honoring the traditional role of Greece in opening the Parade of Nations, and the whole Greek delegation entered at the end, the traditional place for the host nation. The prominence of Greece in every Olympic opening ceremony is a simple but significant tradition that highlights the history of the Olympics, even as the Games expand and change over the centuries.