Shortcuts / 21 July 2021

The Road To Tokyo

The Tokyo Olympic Games are finally here. It’s been a long and tough road to get to the starting line. So in this episode of Squiz Shortcuts we take you through how Japan got it off the ground and how the public feels about it, what the Games will look like for athletes and viewers, and the important stuff – aka the Aussie athletes to watch.

Remind me, when were the Games meant to start?
The Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games were scheduled to start in July 2020 but… COVID. So in March last year, the decision was made to postpone the games. It was the first time in the 124-year modern history of the Olympics that the Games were postponed.

It was for athletes, organisers, spectators, sponsors – you name it. But the major disappointment was for the host country, Japan.

Why is that?
Because it’s been flippin’ expensive. When Japan was first awarded the Games it said the Olympics would cost about US$7.5 billion. But expenses from the delay and putting in place measures to combat COVID have blown that number right out.

How much are we talking?
There are varying reports, but last December organisers said the Games will cost Japan more than US$15 billion.

Holy smokes. So how do locals feel about that?
Regular polling suggests locals wanted the event to be cancelled or postponed. But last month, a poll by Fuji Television showed sentiment was shifting with 30.5% of respondents saying the event should be cancelled, compared to 56.6% in the previous month.

So concerns are fading?
Not quite. There’s still concern over COVID and the risk of another surge in cases because of the Olympics. That’s because Tokyo is under its 4th state of emergency. That’s not due to wrap up until August 22, so after the Olympics.

And how’s Japan handled the crisis so far?
It has avoided a coronavirus outbreak on the scale seen in places like Europe, the US and India but it hasn’t fared as well as other Asian nations. And just last week Tokyo reported its highest number of new cases in almost 6 months.

And vaccinations?
As of 11 July, just over 29% of the country’s population has had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine and 18% have been fully vaccinated. Keep in mind there are 15,400 athletes from every corner of the world coming to the Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as 79,000 Olympic officials, journalists and support staff.

Do they need to be vaccinated to participate in these Games?
No, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President has said that 85% of the athletes and officials living in the Olympic Village will be fully vaccinated. They still have to undergo a 3-day quarantine upon arrival and will be required to get COVID tests daily.

How are organisers going to deal with an outbreak?
Organisers say they are confident they can get on top of any outbreak through the planning work they have done. And there are strict rules in place and a ‘playbook’ to cover it… Those who don’t comply risk a range of penalties including fines and even permanent expulsion from the Games.

What are the rules for athletes?
Athletes will have to stay 2 metres apart from others, except when they are playing on a field or in a team sport. And physical interactions are “discouraged” – so no hugs, handshakes, high fives, or chest bumps…

And outside of the competition?
They are required to have meals by themselves or 2 metres away from others, and those staying at the Village must eat there or at other specifically permitted venues. It means they can only really leave their accommodation to go to official Games venues.

What are the events going to look like?
There will be no crowds – domestic or international – but there could be a few fans at venues outside the host city. To give the events some atmosphere, there will be an “immersive sound system”. What that means is crowd noises from previous Olympic Games will be used to keep things lively. We’ve heard something similar here in Oz at the footy games with no crowds.

And on the podium?
When it comes to winning a medal – things look pretty lonely there too. Athletes will have to put their own medals around their necks while wearing a mask.

So what can I expect from the comfort of home?
Well, to start with, the timezone is in our favour.

It’s nice of them to organise that for us Aussies.
They didn’t. It’s all about the US audience.

Why’s that?
American TV is a major source of revenue for the IOC. The Games have been televised exclusively on NBC – an American broadcaster – since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. In 2011 they paid the IOC US$4.38 billion for the right to broadcast 4 Olympic Games.

What’s that got to do with the time events are broadcast?
It means the big events are being held in the middle of the day to line up with primetime evening viewing in the US.

Doesn’t Australia have a telly deal too?
Sure does. The Seven Network is said to have paid $200 million in 2014 for 3 Olympics. A bargain compared to NBC…

Ok, so I’m ready to tune in. What’s new that I might be interested in?
There are 5 new sports this year – baseball and softball are making a comeback, and karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing are brand new at these Games.

Anyone to look out for in those?
There are high hopes for Sally Fitzgibbons in surfing. She’s a former world #1, and she’s in form having won a World Surf League comp in Western Oz last month.

Nice. And what sport will the Aussies shine the brightest?
A lot of focus will be on the swimmers, as there has been in the past. This time, it’s the women who are red hot.

Who am I looking out for?
Emma McKeon and Ariarne Titmus. McKeon made a splash (see what we did there…) at the Olympic trials last month. And Titmus beat Olympic icon/American Katie Ledecky in the women’s 400m freestyle back in 2019. That was no small feat given Ledecky had never been beaten in the event at an international level.

Looking past the Aussies, give me a couple of names to look out for.
Simone Biles, the incredible American gymnast. She won 4 gold medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and these Games might be the last chance to catch her doing what she does best.

And who else?
Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya. He broke the 2-hour mark for a marathon in 2019 – it didn’t count because he was running with pacemakers and he didn’t follow competition rules on things like using fluids. But he has won the London Marathon 4 times and he’ll be wearing some fast shoes, so he’s one to keep an eye on.

Back to us, how many gold medals is our team going to bring home?
Dunno. But if you look to the bookies, they reckon Australia will win around 12 gold medals. Other data crunchers say as many as 16. Most of those are set to come in or around the water – think swimming, rowing and sailing.

Well then, bring on the watersports!
Oi, Oi, Oi.

Squiz recommends:

Aussie swimmer Emily Seebohm’s Instagram

Eliud Kipchoge’s record-smashing win

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