RIO DE JANEIRO: The old controversy about athletes and the Olympic Opening Ceremony has been reignited with the release of first estimates about how many competitors will not be marching around Maracana on Friday evening writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

A perennial problem for organisers has been the impossibility of devising a system which saves competitors from standing or sitting around for up to several hours in a holding venue before parading into the Opening Ceremony arena.

This has promoted more and more coaches to tell their athletes to give the event a miss, on the grounds that a place on the podium would be vastly more important than a walk-on part in the parade among thousand.

Competition starts immediately the next morning, with rowing heats and shooting at 7:30 a.m. and cycling providing the first medal with the men’s road race. Swimming also has a packed programme.

Australian delegation head Kitty Chiller has said around two thirds of their 410-strong team will be absent.

Similarly Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the¬†British Olympic Association, expects only “a fairly small delegation of athletes” to be on show on Friday. He added: “We have a big crew still up in Belo Horizonte training and athletes who are competing 24 or 48 hours after the opening ceremony.

“So we expect the marching athletes to be in the region of about 55 or so. Given the fact that we’ve got a total team size of 366, it’s quite a small number but their priorities are on competition.”

Those expected march include Olympic tennis champion Andy Murray and golfer Justin Rose.

Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, will declare the first Games held in South America in the ceremony that culminates with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. In London four years ago, the ceremony attracted an estimated global television audience of 900 million. In Beijing, the opening ceremony was watched by 1.2 billion.