COVID-19 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games

Olivia Miller
Picture by Bryan Turner on Unsplash

The recent global spread of COVID-19, and specifically the intensification of stricter public health and safety measures, is having substantial impacts on the international, national and local sport sector.

In response to this and, more specifically, how the Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games may be affected, sport policy experts Dr Geoff Kohe and Dr Niki Koutrou from the School of Sport and Exercise Science (SSES) said:

‘To note, the postponement, cancellation and alterations to international sporting fixtures are not without historical precedent. Geopolitical conflict, civil unrest, terrorism, viral pandemics and localised public health concerns have all disrupted sport at one point or another. At the current time, specific measures are being enacted to alter sport spaces to reduce the risk of COVID-19 viral spread, protect athlete health, and mitigate any negative effects on media coverage, fan experience and sponsor promotion.

‘At present, both the Tokyo Local Organising Committee (TOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remain adamant that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will proceed as scheduled. Such resolute response is not surprising given the IOC’s authority, the economic investments made and the wealth of stakeholders who rely on the continuation of the world’s premier sport mega-event. Moreover, contractually there are options for organisers to make changes and claim insurance pay-outs in the event of financial loss.

‘A key issue could be the flow of potential disruption to those closely involved in the public-facing Games delivery and the duty of care that local organisers in Tokyo have to provide a safe environment for all. Despite the reassuring voices from the IOC and TOCOG, the virus is and will have made an impact in the preparation and the general event experience. For example, among the 80,000 volunteers who have been accepted for the Tokyo 2020 Games, a considerable number will travel from abroad. Some of these volunteers have already raised concerns as to whether their already purchased flight and accommodation expenses will be reimbursed amid growing fears of competition cancellation. For those who have not made any travel arrangements yet, there are still questions as to whether they would be willing to travel to Japan and help with the Olympics.

‘We believe the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will proceed. Yet, the immediate and enduring effects of COVID-19 will be evident. Beyond whatever measures Tokyo organisers put in place to minimise risk, mitigate fear and protect the Olympic brand image, general public fears around travelling to affected regions may already reduce anticipated crowd sizes. Stadia spaces may be reconfigured to reduce crowd interaction and increase space between spectator and athlete. Media outlets will be given strict(er) instructions regarding coverage and maintaining the magic of the televised spectacle. Not to mention, the city being awash with public health messages and lucrative sanitiser gel. National Olympic committees may seize the opportunity to enforce tighter controls on team movements and health surveillance measures.’

Dr Niki Koutrou is Programme Director for Sport Management and Dr Geoff Kohe is Lecturer in Sport Management and Policy.

The University’s Press Office provides the media with expert comments in response to topical news events. Colleagues who would like to learn more about how to contribute their expertise or how the service works should contact the Press Office on 3985 or