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Experience at Tokyo 2020: Part Three

Image source: Unsplash

And just like that, the lights go out. What a couple of weeks it has been.

As Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic Flame and opened the Games, there was excitement of course but this was measured by a palpable feeling of relief. Relief that I had been successful in blocking out the noise, the doubts and the anxiety, instead focussing on tackling all that it took over the past 18 months, to finally make it to my own personal start-line and kick-off of a unique Olympic experience.

What followed, has been a whirlwind of late nights, early mornings, covid-screenings and Google translate.

From private, post-event conversation with newly crowned Olympic Champions, the chaos of tackling media mixed zones, serene medal ceremonies, the tears in moments of victory and realizations of life-long dreams, to the agonies of defeat and of chances missed. I have been so unbelievably privileged to have been afforded an unparalleled all-access pass into these Olympic moments for the second time in my career and I can’t begin to describe how much I value the opportunity to be right there, as history unfolded.

Were there moments my professionalism cracked in the face of emotional moments? Of course. Did I unsuccessfully try to hide my own emotions as self-trained Austrian Cyclist, Anna Kiesenhofer lay on the track near my feet, crying her heart out following a solo road-race victory that shocked the cycling world? Absolutely.

The Olympic spirit, the power of the movement and what it means to become an Olympic Champion has been a part of me for my whole life. I’ve loved these Games since watching the 100m Final at Barcelona in 1992, with my late Father’s excitement and joy vivid in my memory, I knew then that these events were something special.

Who knows if or when I will have the chance to be here again. As my experience grows through multiple games, so do my future prospects but, like the Athletes we work for Olympic opportunities are never to be taken for granted. For now, I will sit in the memories, frame my new pin-badge collection or an important results sheet or two and savour an experience like no other.

Thank you to my colleagues, from all departments, across all sports and venues at Tokyo2020, I hope your own paths through the games were as fulfilling as mine.

Long live the greatest show on earth.


As already covered, Japan’s major National Sponsors were forced to significantly dial back their activations, in the face of both an ongoing COVID pandemic and public opposition to the Games. There were no public engagement opportunities on the streets of Tokyo and no opportunity for international team sponsors, such as Sobeys/COC to offer takeovers of the famous “Canada House” here in the City as families and friends of the team were unable to travel.


Dubbed the “Unofficial Behind the Scenes Channel” of the 2020 Games, by the BBC, TikTok offered fans an insiders view into the Olympic Journey. At the same time the platform was causing the IOC headaches, with Athletes sharing content across all aspects of their experience, from quarantine, to mealtimes, training, accommodations and, of course, the medals. Official footage, or action from Olympic events is banned on the site but quite what the IOC, or major rights holders NBC, make of all the content being shared for free via the social media app, remains to be seen. No doubt those with invested interests in monetising Olympic content, will be at work discussing the future of social media content from Olympic Sites.


As social media usage (and it must be said, abuse at times) rises, in direct line with games preparation periods. Sponsors must take notice of the series of high-profile stories related to mental health, stemming from these games. Sponsors remain vital in continuing to drive and support Olympic Sport, however there remains a responsibility to ensure that those athletes contracted by major brands are prepared for competition in the best possible way. Pressure on athletes to create “unofficial” content from the Athlete Village or maintain their media profiles in the lead up to the games can distract from preparation, ramp up pressure and distract. Be careful in how you plan to activate with your athletes and considerate of how these efforts may impact their preparation for the biggest days of their lives.


As some of the world returns to normal, we’re witnessing flare ups and new outbreaks across the world. As we look to continue the safe hosting of major sporting events, it’s difficult to see COVID protocols ending anytime soon. Quarantines, PCR testing, hand sanitising and social distancing will have to be a considered fixture in order to safely run events and ensure athletes, staff and spectators are kept safe as they travel from around the world.


More so than in previous Games, local volunteers at Tokyo2020 faced real difficulties. Reports of rising infection rates, public opposition and, on a few occasions, talks of family trying to convince them to resign from their roles… made the job of just showing up, for the 60-70’000 unpaid staff, that much more difficult. Had they not stepped up and shown the pride, resolve and professionalism that they did, it would have simply been impossible for these Games to have been safe and successful. Any event organiser building a project that relies on volunteer staff for its success, should look to ways that ensure the experience is one their staff would wish to repeat.


As announcements were made about the restriction of spectator numbers, leading to an eventual decision to close arenas to the public altogether, there were conversations around how these games would be delivered to the World including claims that the quality of coverage expected would mean that empty stadiums wouldn’t really be noticed.

What has been very clear, though, is that no amount of creatively placed cameras, studio graphics, interviews or slow motion replays can make up for what is lost, when a passionate live-crowd isn’t reacting to the drama unfolding in front of them. “A little muted” was a comment I heard more than a few times from both athletes and staff in venues as well as friends viewing from home, quite aptly summing up what were blistering performances, exciting racing and thrilling competition delivered to near silence. Live audiences are not just impactful for those who are there but continued to play a major role in the presentation of the sport. There are some things for which digital engagement is not always the future.


The performances of Canada’s Women at the Tokyo2020 Games has been nothing short of remarkable. 18 of Canada’s 24 total medal were won by our women, taking Canada to their highest ever finish on a non-boycotted Summer Olympic Medal Table.

Tokyo2020 has cemented many of Canada’s Female athletes as household names, as well as introduced us to future stars and has likely inspired young women’s increased participation in Olympic sports across the country. Skateboarding anyone?

Ensuring that sports such as swimming, cycling, Judo or wrestling can benefit from the Tokyo Olympic launchpad, drive more participation, viewership and support outside of the Games window remains in the hands of those that run the sport AND those that fund it…. but what is clear, is that well-covered women’s sport at the level of talent that the Olympic Games has showcased, drives huge engagement and social conversation. Sponsors should continue to take notice of how the Canadian public has reacted to these performances and the buzz they have generated across Canada. Investment into women’s sport and its athletes will be part of a joint effort between brands and national governing bodies and will drive positive results for those partners willing to do the work and support the sports in promoting the performances of our women’s teams. As these athletes continue with national, regional and world championship events in their respective sports, don’t forget how well supported they are or lose the momentum that Tokyo has offered.


About the Author: Andrew Bell is XMC’s Sr. Manager, Brand Strategy and has been connected to the Olympic movement for more than a decade. As a marketing strategist, photographer and former international athlete, he is uniquely positioned to report back from Tokyo 2020, offering insight into brand and sponsor activities within a truly unique edition of the Olympic Games.

About XMC: Founded in 2006, the XMC Group of Companies and its dynamic team of industry professionals provide strategic counsel, negotiation, execution, data analytics and measurement of sponsorship and Experiential Marketing™ programs and services. By leveraging a shared passion for sport, music, culture and cause, XMC connects with consumers, creates deep engagement, and inspires target action. With over $1.5B in deals negotiated, activated and/or valuated, XMC delivers client success by taking ownership, inspiring confidence, and exceeding expectations.



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