Covid protocols and no fans in the venues but were the Tokyo Olympics a success?

The International Olympic Commitee pressed ahead with staging the Games despite widespread calls for them to be cancelled.

Pa Sport Staff
Monday 09 August 2021 06:00
Covid-19 related warnings on the big screen ahead of the opening ceremony (Mike Egerton/PA)
Covid-19 related warnings on the big screen ahead of the opening ceremony (Mike Egerton/PA)

Beset by strict Covid protocols, including a general absence of fans, and played out amid searing heat and humidity, the Tokyo Olympics were undeniably unique.

But did the International Olympic Committee succeed – in defiance of so many vocal critics – in pulling off a successful Games, or did pushing ahead with Tokyo 2020 taint the brand for good?

Here the PA news agency asks the most pertinent questions about the status of the summer Games as they prepare to pack up and head for Paris in just three years’ time.

Did they manage to pull it off?

Karsten Warholm provided one of the Tokyo Games’ greatest moments (Joe Giddens/PA)

Broadly speaking, yes. Despite a rise in Covid cases in the Tokyo area during the Olympics, relatively few cases were directly linked with the influx of athletes and other Games-related personnel. The sport, as it happened, was excellent, from Karsten Warholm’s remarkable 400m hurdles world record to Hebert Sousa’s stunning knockout of Oleksandr Khyzhniak to win men’s middleweight boxing gold.

Was it worthwhile?

Empty seats were a sad sight at the Tokyo Olympics (Mike Egerton/PA)

The lack of spectators afflicted some sports more than others. Knots of protesters made themselves clear outside a number of venues, and the presence of the Games outside the immediate venue environments was negligible as Tokyo commuters went about their daily business as usual. It certainly begged some serious questions, particularly from a Japanese stand-point, of whether the cost of staging the Games had proved worthwhile.

What can the IOC learn?

A successful skateboarding debut provided a blueprint for the future (Adam Davy/PA)

That bigger is by no means always better. Stars like Simone Biles made it abundantly clear that the world’s greatest athletes can only stretch their sinews – and their minds – to certain limits. The success of the so-called urban programme – in particular the young girls in the women’s park skateboarding competition – ought to flag a future direction to Olympic officials: that of inspiring future generations by highlighting sports that are accessible and fun. If Tokyo is to leave one positive legacy above all others, it should be as a timely full-stop to the relentless striving for excess.

How did Team GB fare?

Emily Campbell won Great Britain’s first women’s weightlifting medal (Martin Rickett/PA)

Pretty remarkably, all things considered. Beijing’s 51 medals were expected to be the benchmark but instead Team GB took the same number of medals as they did in the home London 2012 Games and came incredibly close to matching the total from Rio five years ago. What was even more impressive was the variety of sports in which they excelled: historic medals in sports like skateboarding and weightlifting helped bridge the gap to some of the traditional powerhouses such as athletics and rowing that, to different extents, underperformed.

What can we expect in Paris?

The sixteen-year-old Gadirova twins won bronze medals as part of the women’s gymnastics team (Martin Rickett/PA)

British athletes should reap the benefits of an increasingly adaptable funding model, which sees individuals such as weightlifter Emily Campbell subject to individual performance awards, even if her sport as a whole remains technically unfunded. A host of young stars, including teenage bronze medallists Sky Brown and the Gadirova twins, Jennifer and Jessica, can only improve for Paris, while a maturing athletics team and (hopefully) a rowing overhaul suggests the best of British could be yet to come.

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