A number of ceremonies accompany the Olympic Games, notably the Opening Ceremonies, the Closing Ceremonies, and the Victory, Medals, and Diplomas Ceremonies. These ceremonies are conducted according to strict protocols defined in Rule 55 of the Olympic Charter (Opening and Closing Ceremonies) and Rule 56 of the Olympic Charter (Victory, Medals, and Diplomas Ceremonies).
The Opening Ceremonies has a number of recurring features, which are interspersed with an artistic program. This program is usually designed to have some symbolic nature, representing both the Olympic Movement and the national features of the host country. The formal part of the opening begins with the Head of State of the host country (normally) entering the stadium, accompanied by the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the president of the Organizing Committee of the Games. After the national anthem of the host nation is played, the parade of nations follows. The athletes of all participating countries enter the stadium, marching in alphabetical order, using the alphabetical designation of the language of the host country. However, Greece always enters the stadium first, as the founding nation of the Ancient Olympic Games, and the last nation to enter is always the host country. (In 2004, the Greek flag entered first, while the Greek team came in last.). Each nation is led by a flag bearer carrying the flag of the nation or the National Olympic Committee.
The president of the Organizing Committee then speaks for no more than three minutes. The IOC president then speaks briefly and ends by inviting the head of state of the host country to open the Olympic Games. He or she gives no speech but opens the Games by stating “I declare open the Games of … (name of city) celebrating the … Olympiad of the Modern Era (or the … Olympic Winter Games).
The Olympic Flag is then carried into the stadium, and raised while the Olympic Anthem is played. The flag bearers then form a semi-circle around the main rostrum and a competitor and an official of the host country take the Olympic Oath on behalf of all competitors and officials. The ceremony concludes with the conclusion of the Olympic Torch relay. The torch is brought into the stadium, usually by former Olympians from the host nation. The Olympic Flame is lit by the final runner – whose name is kept secret until the last minute – followed by a symbolic release of pigeons, signifying peace.
The Closing Ceremonies end the Olympic Games. The flag bearers of each nation first march into the stadium, followed by the athletes of all nations. The athletes march in no order and typically intermingle, signifying the friendships developed during the Olympic Games. This change to the closing ceremony was suggested by John Ian Wing, a young British boy of Chinese origin, to the organizers of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
The president of the IOC and the Organizing Committee mount the rostrum in the center of the stadium. Three flags are then raised in the following order\: the Greek flag on the right flagpole, the flag of the host country on the center flagpole, and the flag of the host country of the next Olympic Games (or Olympic Winter Games) on the left flagpole. All are raised to the playing of their respective national anthems.
The mayor of the host city then hands the official Olympic Flag to the IOC president, who in turn hands it to the mayor of the host city of the next Olympic Games. The president of the Organizing Committee gives a brief speech. The IOC president then speaks briefly and ends the Olympic Games by stating, “I declare the Games of the … Olympiad (or the … Olympic Winter Games) closed and, in accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now at … (next host city) to celebrate with us there the Games of the … Olympiad (or the … Olympic Winter Games).” A fanfare then sounds, the Olympic Flame is extinguished and while the Olympic Anthem is played, the Olympic flag is lowered from the flagpole.
The Victory, Medals and Diplomas Ceremonies consist of the awarding of these respective items. The medals are to be presented by the IOC president or an IOC Member designated by him. (In reality, the IOC president now awards only a very few medals.) The three place winners mount the victory platform, the winner on the highest step. Their names are announced and the medals are awarded to them. The national flags of the three medal winners are raised, the national flag of the winner on the central flagpole. While the flags are raised the national anthem of the champion is played, usually in a shortened version. This ceremony was adopted in 1932; earlier all medals were handed out at the end of the Games, usually by the head of state of the host nation.