Five things Tokyo can learn from Rio for the 2020 Olympics

For many months it has seemed that the Rio Olympics were doomed to failure; zika, crime, complaints about the athlete’s village, a lack of interest from locals, and corruption scandals – Brazil had it all in the build-up to the Olympics.

However, while the Games were not without their problems, they certainly were not the failure many expected.

As the curtain closes on the Rio Games, what can the organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Games learn from the Brazilian experience?

1. Look after the talent

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Claiming your plans are “athlete-centred” has become one of the great cliches of major sporting events but that does not make it any less important. The surest way to sink your own Olympics is to annoy the stars of the show. They dedicate their lives to getting to an Olympics; make it worthwhile.

This means making sure the athletes’ village is clean and comfortable, there are enough places to train and warm-up, the queues for food are not too taxing, transport to events is reliable and the ‘fields of play’ are worthy of the world’s greatest athletes. By and large, Rio did this pretty well by cutting back on luxuries and focusing on good facilities.

2. Practice makes perfect

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Much like Athens in 2004, most of the key infrastructure in Rio was delivered so late there was simply no time for dress rehearsals. Rio’s organisers got away with this in some places – the last venue to be finished, the velodrome, ended up being one of the best, and quickest – but in others this led to terrible problems.

Green water in the diving pool, pontoons on water, queues at security checks and food deliveries are just some of the things that went wrong in the first few days in Rio because they simply had not had a chance to stress-test it.

3. Health and safety

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They might be three of the most feared words in the English language but as every primary school teacher knows it is all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Given the fact that Rio has a notoriously high crime rate, you would have to say the organising committee and Brazilian government pulled this one off.

Yes, there were some muggings and a few controlled explosions, but in a city this big, this complicated, that has to be expected. Flooding the streets with 85,000 soldiers and armed police worked. Tokyo does not have Rio’s crime figures but no city in the world is safe from opportunistic terror. Tokyo would do well to talk to Rio and London about security.

4. Pack them in

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You spend years training for something that is meant to be the pinnacle of what you do, half the world is watching on television, a place among your sport’s immortals is up for grabs, so why are there so many empty seats?

Rio’s, at times, barely quarter-full venues were without doubt the most deflating aspect of the 2016 experience and no amount of spin or wishful thinking can hide that. You cannot beat the feeling of seeing packed venues across all sports. Tokyo has an extra five sports to sell, although baseball should not be a problem, so it needs to get out there early, bang the drum and make it fun.

5. Remember to smile

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While Rio’s crowds were not plentiful, they were quite cheerful, particularly when they had a dog in the fight. There is nothing wrong with this: hosts doing well is an integral part of every good Games and Rio’s Games got better when Brazil started to win medals in the second week. So Tokyo 2020 should give the Japanese Olympic Committee a gentle nudge every now and then to see how those champions are coming along.

But, as London so brilliantly demonstrated, an army of happy, helpful volunteers can do wonders for keeping athletes upbeat, journalists onside and the public moving in the right direction. Rio did not get this quite right. They had some good volunteers but not enough of them and many they did have did not seem to know what they were there for. Find them, train them, treat them well and let them be your public face.

And what of Tokyo?

If the Japanese additions to the closing ceremony in Rio are anything to go by then Tokyo 2020 is going to be a blast.

A video that included legendary video game characters, like Pikachu and Pac Man, mixed in with images of Tokyo and Japanese athletes was played to an excited audience.

But nobody could have guessed the ending: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appearing on top of the stage dressed as Super Mario.

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Bring on 2020…

With reporting from Matt Slater

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