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From Rio to Tokyo: Challenges for Mega Sports Events and Their Roles

Munehiko Harada, Ph.D.
Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

The Rio Olympics has ended. There was no turmoil that affected its competitive events. The footage of amazing performances by the athletes, worthy of the massive fees for their broadcasting rights, was globally distributed. All of this was very gratifying to not only the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the organizer of the Games, but also to Olympic fans around the world. At the closing ceremony, IOC President Thomas Bach stated, "These were marvelous Olympic Games in the Cidade Maravilhosa!" Referring to the nickname of Rio, Cidade Maravilhosa (the Marvelous City), the President showed his highest regard for the Rio Olympics.

Preceding the Olympics, negative news dominated the media, including the statistic that an average of one police officer is killed every day to illustrate the high crime rate in Brazil; serious water pollution in Guanabara Bay, a venue for various aquatic events; the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff; and the fear of Zika fever. Moreover, topics unrelated to athletes gained much public attention, for example, the distribution of 350,000 condoms at the Olympic Village (that's two and a half condoms for one athlete per day!). Thus, the concerns of mass media on the success of the Olympics had become more conspicuous. However, the Games proceeded smoothly, and many incredible performances by Olympic athletes were broadcast worldwide.

I traveled to Brazil in 2014 to watch the FIFA World Cup, and delays in preparation and poor event management were pointed out as problems at that time also. In fact, construction on the new stadium continued until right before the tournament began, and construction materials remained scattered around the venue. Nevertheless, when the tournament started, the stadium was packed with frenzied fans, the exciting matches aired on TV. For the Rio Olympics, the situation was quite similar.

The features of the Olympic Games have been explained using short phrases in the past. For example, the Sydney Olympics was called the “Green Olympics” for taking the environment into consideration. “Olympics come home” refers to the Athens Olympics in 2004. The expressions “the Olympic flame touches 1.3 billion people” and the “Most connected Games” (due to social media) were used for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, respectively. How should we describe the recent Rio Olympics? Though it was praised as the “Marvelous Olympics” in the end, the Rio Olympics was predicted to become the “Most confused Olympics.”

In addition to the three factors of scale, complexity, and a rigid schedule, what makes hosting an Olympic game difficult is dealing with unanticipated economic situations that may occur during the seven years from winning the Olympic bid to its open ceremony. Brazil saw its economic growth rate, which stood at +7.5% in 2010, plummet to −3.5% the year before the Olympics in 2015. Such economic slump, combined with political confusion, caused substantial delays in preparing for the event.

Not only limited to Rio, for organizers to experience some degree of confusion and delay in planning for an Olympic Games, a collective of diverse projects, is natural. Delays in preparation, however, cause delays in legacy plans (government plans for post-Olympics facilities), which are presently considered as important as the event itself. For example, construction work for the 2004 Athens Olympics was delayed to a great extent that concerns were voiced on whether the event would even take place as scheduled. As a result, the legacy plans were not properly implemented, leaving many of the Olympic facilities vacant to this day.

Similar confusions have occurred even in developed countries as well. The organizers of the London Olympics in 2012, for example, were forced to drastically review their security plans after terrorist attacks on the city's subways, which happened immediately after London was selected as the host city. Furthermore, they continued to be hit by unforeseen difficulties, for instance, the lack of funding due to sluggish private investments as the result of the financial crisis in 2008.

Yet, the organizers of the London Olympics overcame these challenges by managing the event skillfully and succeeded in enabling Olympic legacies to function smoothly after the Games, as exemplified by the redevelopment of the city's eastern district and the increase foreign tourists. Moreover, Great Britain won 27 gold medals at the Rio Olympics, only second to the United States and the most ever in British Olympic history. Thus, the United Kingdom left outstanding legacies in terms of competition as well.

The Tokyo Olympics, too, has already had various problems, such as plagiarism allegations on the original Olympic emblem, abandoning the initial national stadium design due to its spiraling cost, and the increase of projected maintenance cost for building new facilities. The organizers need long-term organizational management, which includes compiling contingency budgets to cope with unpredictable circumstances that may happen in the future and securing experts capable of managing a variety of projects.

For an Olympic host city, four years of preparation might seem long, but it is in fact short. Mega sporting events like the Olympic Games are characterized by their authority to prompt a wide range of public investments and to put a deadline on all preparation so that everything is set before the opening ceremony. Tokyo has the duty to complete all of its preparation for the Games without delay in the years to come. To bear fruit for further advancing its urban development plans by hosting the Olympics, Tokyo must formulate post-Olympic plans for its facilities as well.

Munehiko Harada, Ph.D.
Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

1954: Born in Osaka Prefecture
1977: Graduated from Kyoto University of Education with a bachelor's degree in education
1979: Completed a master's program in physical education at the University of Tsukuba
1984: Completed a doctoral program at the Department of Physical Education and Recreation, Pennsylvania State University
1987: Research Associate at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya
1988: Instructor at Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences
1995: Fulbright Senior Researcher, dispatched to Texas A&M University
1995: Professor at Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences Graduate School
2005: Professor at Waseda University Faculty of Sport Sciences

Currently held positions
Chairman of the Japanese Association for Sport Management
Chairman of the Japan Sport Tourism Alliance (JSTA)
Vice Chairman of the Saitama Sport Commission (SSC)
Director at the Japan Society of Sports Industry
Director at the Fitness Industry Association of Japan
Director at the Japan Sports Health Industries Federation
Member of the Public Enterprise Examination Committee at JKA
Member of the J League Management Committee
Member of the Committee to Examine a Basic Sports Act at the Japan Sports Agency

Major publications
Physical Fitness (translation), Baseball Magazine Sha
Marketing for Public Services (translation), Yuji Sozo
Sports Industry Theory, Fifth Edition, Kyorin Shoin
Sports Leisure Service Principle, Kenpakusha
Sports Business Administration, Taishukan Shoten
Sports Event Business Theory, Heibonsha Shinsho 145
Socio-Economics of Lifetime Sports, Kyorin Shoin
Illustrated Sports Management, Taishukan Shoten
Corporate Strategy—Learning from American Sports Business (translation), Taishukan Shoten
Sports Marketing, Sports Business Books I, Taishukan Shoten
Sports Management, Sports Business Books III, Taishukan Shoten
Sports Health Tourism, Sports Business Books IV, Taishukan Shoten
Sports Facility Management, Sports Business Books V, Taishukan Shoten
New YMCA Strategy, National Council of YMCAs of Japan
Sports City Strategy, Gakugei Shuppan Sha