2020 Tokyo Olympics: A Whole Different Ballgame

There’s no denying the amazing amount of time and effort it takes to plan the Olympic Games, considered the world’s most prestigious international sporting event.

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games hosted around 11,000 athletes, generated $321 million in ticket sales, and brought in $7.7 billion dollars in marketing revenue (between 2013 and 2016, according to Statista). That’s right, $7.7 billion!

People just couldn’t get enough of the world’s greatest athletes.

The Summer Games had been held every four years since 1896, except during both world wars. But last year, the Games were postponed due to COVID-19, the first postponement ever caused by a public health crisis.

It’s yet unknown whether the rescheduled 2020 Olympic Games will be viewed as a success story or a disaster in Olympic history.

It was officially announced late last March by the International Olympic Committee that the Tokyo Olympics would be postponed to 2021. At the time, it was unclear what the state of the world would look like in a year. As Summer 2021 approached, it was clear many were questioning the risks and rewards of lighting the Olympic Torch this summer.

Some people are calling it a sign of strength after a year of defeat by the coronavirus pandemic. Others are calling it a logistical nightmare.

Planning an event as big as the Olympics is one thing but having to reschedule it during a world health crisis is a whole different ballgame. Not even a different ballgame, a different sport entirely…one that no one knows the perfect playbook for.

Ironically, crisis communication is often deemed the Olympics of public relations, the ultimate challenge. There are many publics involved in the planning and execution of the Olympics. The coordination and communication required to pull the Games off in general must be impeccable. Anyone on the sidelines of this year’s Games, working to “win” in terms of making sure everything goes to plan, is indeed competing in their own Olympics of public relations.

The main logic of postponing the 2020 Olympics came from the sheer devastation caused by the pandemic. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. Now, with vaccinations in supply, normalcy is resuming in many countries. However, Japan has not seen much time out of a state of emergency. In fact, the country will stay in a state of emergency throughout the entirety of the games.

No spectators are allowed and restrictions for all personnel, including the athletes, are very strict. Although 80 percent of Olympic village inhabitants are expected to be vaccinated, only 8 to 30 percent of the Japanese public has received vaccination, according to Statista. This led to calls for the Olympics to be moved yet another year and even to another location.

Japan worked hard to make sure its turn at hosting the Summer Olympic Games would not be entirely tainted. There’s speculation Japan wanted to prove to the world it could stay in control amid a global crisis.

Interestingly, most Japanese citizens, including Emperor Naruhito, were concerned about the safety of hosting the Games and have a negative stance toward them.

“In that sense, I feel that the Olympics and Paralympics are a microcosm of the world,” said Hidemasa Nakamura, Tokyo Olympic official, in relation to the idea that international travel coincided with the Olympics will make the Games a super spreader event or showcase to the world that we’re capable of acting as a global society once again.

However, the World Athletics President is not as concerned and doesn’t believe there’s a huge risk attached. It seems two people heavily spotlighted on the stage of the Olympic Games should be sharing the same feelings. Disagreement is not a sign of a well-prepared front going into the Games. This, among many other things, provides that there are cracks in the ceiling that is trying to hold up one of the most highly anticipated international events.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are a great reminder of just how important communication and coordination among key publics can be. There’s a possibility of everything going to plan, which points to concise public relations, including the perfect strategy, key messaging, and strong relationships. But there’s also a chance of the opposite.

Many questions are still unanswered. Only time will tell if the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will be remembered with a smile or a look of unease.