Business Transformation

In the face of COVID-19, the Tokyo Olympics make a bold choice

With the much-anticipated 2020 Olympics now on the horizon, Tokyo is stepping up its vaccination efforts. Although Japan has suffered a less damaging infection and death rate than other major countries, it has thus far given just over one million of its 126.3 million populace the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. As well as extending the rollout to older residents of the city, Tokyo authorities are also implementing stricter protocols aimed at curbing its spread.

Those preparations are being made in anticipation of the July Olympics, which will be the first ever not to welcome international fans to the extravaganza. The difficult but “unavoidable” decision was made last month by the Five Party committee, who rightfully prioritized the safety of athletes and spectators while still allowing the Games to go ahead. As a matter of fact, this bold and unprecedented move represents a unique opportunity to rethink the event in general, namely by placing the focus on the athletes and their achievements, as opposed to in-person attendance records.

Safety first

As far back as the inaugural modern event in 1896, now-defunct travel agency Thomas Cook created bespoke packages for sporting enthusiasts to visit Athens, while even a serious outbreak of Spanish Flu of 1920 was not enough to deter overseas fans from flocking to Antwerp in Belgium. However, the precarious global situation regarding Covid-19 means that they will not be permitted in Tokyo this July.

It’s true that the competition’s organizers will have to accept an economic loss as a consequence, as the lost revenue of some 630,000 overseas fans (plus reduced capacity in stadiums for domestic spectators) could add up to a $1.18 billion deficit. That’s a sizable shortfall, but it’s evident that the decision is the correct one. The health and safety of all those involved remains the paramount concern, and managing an event in which some 60,000 athletes, coaches, staff and media are still expected to attend – even without a sizable live audience – will prove to be no mean feat.

However, other large sporting events such as the NBA, UFC and the Australian Open have shown that the logistical challenges involved are not insurmountable – even if those at the Olympics may be of a more multifaceted nature.

No fans? No fear

And so there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that Tokyo will be a success story as well. For starters, the city has previous experience in hosting the Olympics during turbulent times. Its 1940 incarnation was overshadowed (and ultimately cancelled) by the specter of WWII, while the 1964 edition represented a textbook lesson in bouncing back from adversity. In both cases, the planning committee’s partnership with advertising agency Dentsu turned out to be an important strategic decision. Dentsu have also softened the blow this time by successfully renegotiating deals with all 68 sponsors that will result in an injection of an extra $210 million into the competition’s coffers.

What’s more, attendance doesn’t necessarily dictate the success of the event or the impressiveness of the spectacle. Beijing 2008 was regarded as the most accessible Games to date, despite its disappointing attendance figures, largely due to technological innovations and sponsorship contributions. Indeed, the advances in digital capabilities meant that Rio 2016 featured 218,000 hours of online coverage, which was more than double the 81,500 hours of television footage. NBC alone provided 2.5 billion streaming minutes, which was over one billion more than all previous Games combined.

With Tokyo being vaunted as the “most digital ever” incarnation of the Games, organizers have an opportunity to create an entirely new viewing experience. They will be the first Olympics to be broadcast in 4K HDR, while behind-the-scenes access and virtual and augmented reality will bring spectators as close to the action as possible without physically boarding a flight. And the advantages of remote access won’t just apply to fans, but press, too: the development of a cloud-based platform will enable media teams to stay largely at home, expanding content production by an estimated 30% whilst simultaneously trimming the broadcast footprint by the same measure.

“Games of Hope”

Even before the outbreak of Covid-19 turned the world on its head, Tokyo 2020 was being touted as the “Recovery Games”, as Japan has been keen to demonstrate it has bounced back stronger than ever from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear meltdowns. In the wake of a global pandemic that has shaken the entire world, the term has taken on a second meaning; now, it offers sports enthusiasts from all over the globe the chance to escape the repetitive and oppressive atmosphere that lockdown measures have often precipitated.

Although those watching from abroad will not be able to attend the games in person, unprecedented coverage of the action – alongside exciting new developments in the technology – mean that the experience doesn’t have to be diminished in any aspect. And with athletes gaining a whole extra year to fine-tune their performance and prepare, these Olympics could be among the most spectacular from a sporting perspective, as well. In that light, Tokyo 2020 can certainly become the “Games of Hope”, offering the entire world a slice of respite and a window into what’s possible once this deadly disease has been vanquished, once and for all.

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Sophie Ireland
SVP for News and Editorial Director. As CEOWORLD magazine's senior vice president for news and editorial director, Sophie Ireland oversees CEOWORLD magazine's journalism and journalists around the world and across platforms. She leads an award-winning team of journalists and newsroom executives who are committed to excellence, innovation and the highest quality reporting and storytelling. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or connect on LinkedIn. Email her at