Having already been delayed by a calendar year, the now 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games as been under significant scrutiny and threat for a considerable amount of time. The emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic has resulted in all elite sport, to some extent, being halted for a period of time. Under careful guidance, sport has slowly begun to re-emerge around the world, in its’ various guises and under strict protocol.
The prospect of approximately 11,000 Olympic and nearly 4,500 Paralympic athletes descending on Tokyo for competition, from all around the world, evidently presents a significant operational and logistical concern. It has recently been announced that the IOC will be hosting the Games ‘behind closed doors’ without overseas fans in attendance in an attempt to minimise the risk of the Games becoming a hotspot for the virus transmitting.
No Fans in Attendance
Whilst the IOC and Japan spent considerable time denying the claims, stressing that they were exploring every possible option available to them, minimising excessive travel and mixing has been the universally accepted path to success since various mutations of the virus emerged from around the world. Whilst some sports from all over the globe have enjoyed the opportunity to welcome a minimal number of fans back to attend matches, the majority of these attendees are local, ensuring a minimal degree of travel and mixing.
At the Rio 2016 Games, 500,000 tourists descended on the city from all over the world, mixing and socialising with the six million residents of the city. For the London 2012 Olympics, 8.8million tickets were sold throughout the event. Naturally, the risk associated with a gathering of this extent are astronomical and therefore the prospect of an Olympics to the extent that we have been accustomed to in recent times is effectively negated.
As has been witnessed in major sports such as the Premier League Football and NBA, the ability to coordinate a successful competition without large transmissions of the virus is possible. Specifically regulating the movement of athletes and support staff across the different sports can be made far easier to regulate without the inclusion of foreign fans adding potential mutations of the Coronavirus into the mix.
Local Fans in Attendance
The potential prospect of simply allowing local fans to attend the games has been identified as a key proponent to a successful 2021 Olympics. Immediately, this would provide a significant home advantage within the competition however, as of early March of this year, Japan had reported 441,200 COVID-19 cases with a death toll of just over 8,300. These statistics remain considerably low when compared with some foreign countries such as the UK or USA and as a result present a far lower threat of the virus transmitting or introducing mutations of the virus.
During the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, local fans accounted for 80% of all ticket sales throughout the competition. The notion that only local fans in attendance would massively diminish the number of spectators therefore appears somewhat unfounded.
With Tokyo already having been organised to be the most expensive Summer Olympics of all time, the year-long postponement and increased measures of protection from COVID-19 has increased the bill by $2bn. As a result, the cost now stands at an eye-watering $11bn.
During London 2012, the Office of National Statistics stated that the 590,000 tourists that visited London for a ticketed event spent on average £1,290. Even with the most primitive of mathematics, a boost of over £760million is a considerable amount to be lost from just tourists alone.
In addition to the tourism boost from abroad, London 2012 saw 20million spectator journeys made throughout the city, providing an economic boost to the infrastructure of the city. Needless to say that without this footfall at Tokyo 2021, the city will lose out on a considerable return for the investments that had already been contributed to the preparations for hosting the Games.
The draw of the Games
Only occurring once every 4 years, there remains a handful of moments, even for the luckiest of athletes, in which they have the opportunity to grasp eternal Olympic glory. By default, legendary performances are remembered for a lifetime and athletes can change their lives at the Games. Recent exploits across multiple Olympics from Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt as well as Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill at London 2012 provides a huge attraction to the largest sporting event on the planet. The global interest to see these athletes at their peak commands a huge degree of financial and marketing commitment.
Television rights remain a huge player in broadcasting the events of an Olympic Games. For Rio 2016, NBC committed to 6,000 hours of programming having paid $1.2bn for the media rights. By the start of August 2016, they had already made $1bn of that back through advertising.
How does this affect the Olympic Games of the Future?
It was universally accepted that any decision for the 2021 Games to not go ahead will be based on the notion of the Olympics and Paralympics being cancelled rather than postponed. With a substantial number of tickets already having been sold to both event events, the Games itself, along with the scale of future events looked to be heading towards an uncertain path until the recent announcement that the Games will take place without fans from overseas.
Should the Games have not taken place, the IOC has insurance underwritten and it has been estimated that insurers across the world would have faced a $2-3bn loss if the Games did not go ahead. For the athletes, many of whom would have had their final or only opportunity to compete taken away from them, would have found themselves with a void at the end of a now 5-year cycle of training in preparation for the Games. Thankfully for all competitors, the IOC’s announcement provides a platform for the Games to take place, with fans, at the end of an incredibly turbulent 18 months.
In short, the Olympic and Paralympic Games carry the weight and responsibility of individuals’ careers and livelihoods alongside national economies and infrastructure alongside national corporations and investments. The sporting platform exceeds all others, inspiring generations of athletes to follow. With technology continually making the world seem smaller, it may not be unreasonable to assess the exposure and practicality of a more virtual event than ever seen before. 2021 now provides the biggest platform on which to do just that, allowing spectators from all over the world to watch and support the event with the same fervent enjoyment that they would otherwise have if they were at the event.