Communication the Games-changer for Tokyo 2020: ex-IOC marketing chief

·4-min read
The stringent measures put in place by Tokyo Olympics organisers should reassure the Japanese people, a former IOC marketing chief says

The strict controls put in place by the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Games organisers should allay Japanese people's fears about a new wave of coronavirus, the IOC's former head of marketing Michael Payne told AFP.

The 63-year-old Irishman says though some polls show 80 percent oppose the Games going ahead in July, he believes the Japanese people are not against hosting the quadrennial sporting show. It is more, he says, that they are "nervous about the timing."

Payne puts this down to poor communication, which he says reflects a global malaise of "communications management" by governments across the world since the Covid-19 pandemic began over a year ago "which left a lot to be desired."

Payne speaks with a certain authority, having in nearly two decades at the IOC been widely credited with transforming its brand and finances through sponsorship.

"People are uncertain and believe that there is a risk of it (the virus) spreading if the Games are held," Payne said.

"However, if you go and look at the very strict controls the Japanese organisers and IOC have put in place they have practically completely cut off any direct connection between international visitors and Japanese people," he told AFP in a phone interview.

"There is the bubble, most foreigners will be vaccinated before travelling, they are tested twice before they fly out and tested every day in Japan.

"You are not allowed to go downtown (in Tokyo) so they are a very tough set of protocols, but obviously people have not fully understood the measures being taken to ensure they will be a safe and secure Games."

Payne -- who went on to advise the IOC for a further two decades after he left his post -- has become wearily accustomed to negative stories in the lead-up to Olympic Games.

"The media stories in the build up to each Games seem to get more dramatic and hyped as you go to the next one," he says.

"People forget that three years ago for Pyeongchang the media said it must be cancelled because the Korean Peninsula is not safe" and that the two Koreas would engage in nuclear warfare.

He also recalls: "There were calls too for the cancellation of Rio in 2016 due to the Zika virus."

- 'All the question marks' -

Payne sees the Tokyo Olympics going ahead as being a positive message to the world, even if it is still possible that spectators will be banned.

"Clearly when the Games were originally postponed a year ago there was hope the world would have fully pulled through this crisis," Payne said.

"No one expected it to drag on as it has, so the Games would have been a full celebration of the world pulling through.

"I still think the Games will come through as a celebration of the world beginning to come through."

Payne says the Japanese were equally nervous approaching the 1964 Games.

However, in his opinion "the 1964 Games were a turning point in Japanese history... it was the moment Japan stepped out onto the world stage, (showing) the innovation, technology and brand Japan."

Cartoonists have had a field day focusing on the "will-they-won't they-go-ahead?" line.

While the athletes have been training as well as they could within the confines of lockdowns, Payne has used the time to put together a hefty book of cartoons about the Olympic Games through the ages, entitled "Toon In".mad

"The role of cartoons is social commentary of that time and I thought would it not be wonderful to tell the history of the Olympics through cartoons?" he said.

Payne edited down 3,000 cartoons to 1,200 "not just through an Anglo-Saxon perspective" and provided commentaries of his own to accompany them.

"Somebody asked me what do the IOC think about the book and to their credit they have had a good laugh," he said.

Payne has his favourites. One by Japanese-American cartoonist Roger Dahl shows a runner stumbling over hurdles, an apt illustration for the troubled preparations for the postponed Tokyo Games.

Another image included is the inevitable cartoon by Jim Thompson of the Olympic rings wearing a huge disposable anti-Covid mask.

Do the cartoons do lasting damage to the butt of their humour?

"The clear answer is no," said Payne. "It is important occasionally to laugh at oneself."

pi/gj

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