Shortcuts / 25 March 2021

Making the Tokyo Olympics Happen

The Tokyo Olympic Games have been postponed and questions about whether they will happen this year have been asked. So in this episode of Squiz Shortcuts, we take you through why the Olympics are such a big deal, the impact of postponing them, and how organisers are now planning to pull them off.

It’s kinda reassuring that the Olympic Games are a thing.
Exactly – what’s not to love? The bringing together of the best athletes in the world, from all over the world to compete under an umbrella of peace and mutual understanding. Nice. 

How big are they?
Their size varies Games to Games. But to give you a sense of the numbers, at the Sydney Olympics there were upwards of 10,000 athletes from 199 countries who competed, and 3.7 billion people who tuned in to watch the opening ceremony.

That’s a lot…
It is, and that means it’s a particularly big deal for the host country. First they have to fight it out to be selected by the International Olympic Committee and then they have to cough up a lot of money to be the host.  

How much money are we talking about?
Well, using Sydney as an example, the cost was around $6.5 billion, not including the wider costs for urban and transport infrastructure. The NSW Government estimated that they generated $653 million in additional tax revenues from visitors. And when all the numbers were tallied, there was a loss of around $1.3 billion.

Many economists argue that both the short and long-term benefits of hosting the Games are exaggerated and leave many host countries with large debts and maintenance liabilities. On the other hand, critics say those conclusions don’t consider the economic return on infrastructure that’s built during the Games. Playing host can also shine an international spotlight on a country which can benefit trade and tourism. 

And then there’s the feel good factor?
Exactly, and there’s plenty of evidence that the Olympics are wildly popular. In 2013 when Tokyo won the bid for the 2020 Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) found that locals’ support for hosting the Games was around 70%. 

That’s all very well and good, but it all sounds like a big undertaking…
It is, and don’t forget Australia is looking set to have another Olympics come our way with Brisbane the frontrunner to secure the 2032 Summer Games. It seems like a long way off now but to organise something that big, getting started now is necessary. 

So that means the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been a big deal?
Yep. And there was no precedent to refer to. The delay of last year’s Games was the first time something like that’s happened in the Games’ 124-year modern history. 

Hang on, haven’t the Games been cancelled before?
They have – that happened in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the First and Second World Wars. And one of those was a planned Tokyo Games, so Japan really hasn’t had the best luck when it comes to the Olympics… But previous Games haven’t been postponed. 

So what happened?
It was 25 March last year when former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and IOC President Thomas Bach announced that they would delay the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games to 2021. All due to COVID… 

That must have hurt financially?
The numbers are hard to nail down, but reports say that Japan has spent more than $12 billion on the event. And according to the local organising committee, the one-year postponement of the Games has caused the cost to balloon to more than $15 billion. But audits by the Japanese government think that number is much higher – they estimate the cost to be at least $25 billion. 

For a bit of perspective, when Japan was awarded the Games in 2013, Tokyo said the Olympics would cost about $7.5 billion. So however you look at it, it’s a whole lot more. 

And the postponement would have had a big impact on the athletes too…
Yep, and that’s because scheduling uncertainty and training programs don’t tend to work well together… That’s why the decision to postpone the Tokyo Games by exactly a year was welcomed by many, including Australian Olympic Committee boss Matt Carroll who said it was a relief for athletes who had undergone a period of uncertainty.

But isn’t everything still up in the air?
It is and it isn’t. COVID is still a thing, so that’s a problem. But the IOC says they are steaming ahead.

So the Tokyo Games could be delayed again?
No. The IOC has been clear – the Summer Games will take place starting 23 July, and the Paralympic Games from 24 August, or not at all. 

Why’s that?
Again, athletes training schedules is a thing. But any further delays will impinge on the Winter Olympics in 2022, which are due to take place in Beijing in February. The Paris 2024 Olympics are also on the horizon. Another reason is cost – like we said earlier, the postponement has left Japan with a pretty hefty shortfall to cover so delaying it again would make those costs even more burdensome. 

If it does go ahead, what will the Tokyo Olympics look like?
Thanks to the ongoing threat of COVID, they’ve had to ditch the lavish and flashy opening and ceremonies. The daily program will also be decluttered. We don’t know just yet what that will look like, but billions of people are still expected to tune in. 

And spectators?
There won’t be any international fans, and announcements are still to be made about how many local fans can attend. A light on approach starts today with the Olympic Torch relay – it will travel through all 47 districts of Japan, but no one can go and see it. Only participants and invitees will take part in that event. 

Out of interest, how’s Japan handled the coronavirus crisis so far?
Japan has avoided a coronavirus outbreak on the scale seen in Europe and the US with a total of about 456,000 known infections and more than 8,800 COVID-19 related deaths. 

And vaccinations?
Japan had hoped to secure enough doses to cover the entire population in time for the Olympics opening ceremony in July. That’s looking unlikely, with only about 40,000 health workers reportedly receiving the first dose of the vaccines, and mass vaccinations – starting with those over 65yo – not due to start until May.

Will athletes have to be vaccinated to participate?
No, they aren’t required to get the jab for the Games, but the IOC has taken on board an offer from the Chinese Olympic Committee to make doses available for participants. It’s a jab Australia’s Olympic Committee says our athletes and officials won’t have, but it is working with the Australian Government to have those travelling to Tokyo vaccinated by the time they leave. 

And what else will be different for athletes once they get there?
To start, they’ll arrive at different times. Athletes won’t arrive until 4 or 5 days before their competition and they will leave within 48 hours of finishing. While there, they’ll be in a village, they’ll go to training facilities and they’ll go to their competition venues – and that’s about it. So there’s not much room for the high-jinx and fun times we hear about…

That sounds intense…
It’s been quite a time for athletes and organisers, that’s for sure. So we’ll need some extra oomph in our ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ chants come July and August…

Squiz recommends:

Cathy Freeman’s famous 400m sprint at the 2000 Sydney Olympics

Nikki Webster’s performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics

‘The Odd Couple: Roy and HG’ – Australian Story


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