When the announcement was made by the IOC that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, already delayed a calendar year, would be taking place behind closed doors, there was a considerable degree of trepidation. The comprehensive health and safety protocols along with the lack of supporters in stadia throughout the competition led many people from around the world and in the host city to question the benefit of running the Games in such a restricted format at all.
Before the Games got underway with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by Naomi Osaka, over half of the population of Tokyo were in favour of the Games being postponed or cancelled. In spite of the negative inclinations of local residents throughout Japan, the Games were completed without a major intrusion of the global pandemic that had threatened to sabotage the whole event in terms of a highly feared breakout.
With the entire Olympic Village operating within a unique ‘bubble’ environment, it was certainly the most unique Olympic experience in modern history, but does that unique element constitute success?
Global Interest in Tokyo 2020
Despite the media attention and scrutiny in the build-up to the biggest sporting event on earth, the viewing figures from around the world fluctuated massively from previous editions. Throughout Europe and the USA, viewing figures through the opening two weeks of competition saw a significant decline from Rio 2016 and London 2012 figures. Whilst a considerable degree of this can be attributed to the difficult time zone impact on potential viewers in those regions; a principle supported by an increase in viewing figures throughout Australia.
With such an opposition to the Olympics throughout the host country, an impressive 70million people tuned in to the opening ceremony, making it the most watched event of the past decade.
When comparing a similar event, the 2008 Beijing Olympics took place in a city with just a one-hour time difference to that in Tokyo. The BBC reported a 61% decline in peak live audience between the 2008 opening ceremony and Tokyo’s equivalent in 2021.
COVID-19 and The Olympic Games
The most controversial Olympic Games in recent history provoked scepticism as a result of the global pandemic that had already contributed the delaying of the Games by a calendar year. A rise in cases throughout the country in the immediate build-up accompanied renewed scepticism at not only the necessity of the event but also the safety of the bio-secure bubble that was established to house the athletes throughout the 17 days of competition. With the impact of the Games being truly unknown, hundreds of cases were linked directly to the Olympic village however all isolated incidents were contained on relatively small scales in relation to the entire cohort of athletes.
Since the Games, an increase in weekly COVID-19 cases throughout the city has diminished whatever feel-good factor was created by the fierce competition laid bare in front of the world.
Sporting Success at Tokyo 2020
With such a strain on training methods over the past 18 months as well as disrupted preparations, unusual environment and a lack of support in the stadia, the performance levels of athletes throughout the event could have been forgiven for being slightly below the level of previous Olympic Games. In total, 22 World Records occurred in Tokyo, only slightly down on the 27 established in Rio 2016.
The overall medal table saw familiar names at the top as the USA topped the count ahead of China with the host nation Japan with a surprise third place finish ahead of Team GB in fourth. Team GB matched their medal total from the historic London 2012 Games with 65, comfortably inside the expectations of 45 to 70 set by UK Sport to make it their second-most successful overseas games in history, just two medals behind their achievements in Rio 2016.
Memorable individual performances throughout the Olympics helped to create a sporting spectacle that at times threatened to paper over the void that was left in the form of a lack of unique Japanese atmosphere. Karsten Warholm’s astonishing 400m hurdles time and Simone Biles’ memorable return to competition showcased the power of the athlete’s bodies and minds throughout such intense competition.
Six new sports were factored into the Games with Sport Climbing, Surfing, Skateboarding, Karate, Baseball and Softball all contributing to the IOC’s wider commitment to engage a younger audience. With breakdancing to look forward to at the Paris Games in 2024, the clear shift to attract the younger generation after such a tumultuous 2 years will be an intriguing platform from which future editions of the event will be established.
Tokyo Olympic Games
With such close scrutiny and the very real threat that accompanied failure looming overhead, the practicalities of moving 11,000 athletes and their various teams of support staff into the country and subsequently the Olympic village is an impressive feat of logistical organisation.
The sporting prowess of the elite athletes on show provided a much needed source of inspiration throughout the world for those who had struggled ins recent times. In truth though, the Olympic Games is about far more than just the sporting prominence of those competing. It provides a platform for the host nation to showcase everything about their culture and their country. With such a profound build up over the best part of a decade, the opportunity to experience the events and sporting performances first-hand help to use sport as a vehicle through which the nation can put themselves on the global stage.
As the attention now turns to the 4,400 Paralympic athletes competing at the Paralympic Games, the immediate excitement around the Olympic Games has rapidly diminished. Strict restrictions remain in place on the local population who, after contributing to the funding of the event, have been distant spectators in front of the TV screens with the event stripped back to the very bare essential; sport.
Managing the expectations as eyes turn to Paris 2024 will be crucial to the deliverance of a Games that the world over has become accustomed to in recent times.