Brock experts weigh in on Tokyo Olympic Games

After a year-long postponement due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will officially kick off Friday, July 23 with the opening ceremony.

Like many things over the past year and a half, these games will be unprecedented in nature.

While spectators have been banned from all Olympic venues, Olympic Village will be far from empty, with about 11,500 athletes expected to compete in Japan. Another estimated 79,000 journalists, officials and staff are also expected to be in attendance.

Among the competitors, Team Canada is sending 371 athletes to the Tokyo Olympics, the country’s largest Olympic contingent since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games.

Brock University has numerous experts available to speak with the media in the lead-up to and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games on a variety of subjects:


Sport psychology

“With respect to sport psychology and performing under pressure, this is going to be a very different type of Olympics,” says Brock University Department of Kinesiology Chair and Professor Philip Sullivan. “The athlete’s cycle has already been set off a year, and now, with no audiences and the possibility of testing positive for COVID-19 in the back of everyone’s minds, these athletes are having to deal with stressors we’ve never seen before.”

In terms of the mental toughness, high-performance athletes are used to “staying in the zone,” while competing under difficult conditions and planning ahead for stressors such as adjusting to different time zones, different food and sleep patterns, he says.

“In Tokyo, we may see very different types of performance because of the ‘what ifs’ and lack of spectators,” Sullivan says. “For example, if you are a swimmer, you are used to tuning out spectator noise to some extent, but it’s often a part of the training environment, and so familiar. The idea of not having spectators is all new.”

Testing for COVID-19 is another unknown to contend with along with the potential timing of those results.

“What happens to the athlete who is leading a competition and halfway through a COVID-19 test comes back positive and they are removed?” says Sullivan. “Or what’s going to happen, when it’s 30 minutes before a wrestling match and you’re told you can’t compete? How do you mentally prepare for that?”


Branding and sponsorship issues

Also watching these games carefully is Assistant Professor of Sport Management Michael Naraine, who is interested in learning which brands will withdraw their advertising from the Games.

He points out that each Olympic Games have top-level sponsors, such as this year’s contingent including Toyota, Samsung and Panasonic. But Toyota, which joined the Olympic Partner programme in 2015 as the first-ever mobility partner, announced this week it was cancelling television advertisements and its CEO won’t attend opening ceremony as a result of the deep unpopularity of the Tokyo Olympics in the host country of Japan, where residents fear that staging the Games will further fuel a rise in Delta variant COVID-19 infections.

“The Toyota Olympic Worldwide Paralympic partnership was supposed to be a type of coming out party for the brand as they debuted vehicles, mobility support robots and mobility services,” Naraine says. “Toyota actively distancing themselves from the Games early is an attempt to help its brand with the Japanese people. It will be interesting to see if others do the same.”

Naraine expects many of the brands associated with the Olympics are currently assessing whether they will see a return on their investment or deem the Games too high risk to continue supporting.


Gender equity

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is saying Tokyo 2020 will be the most gender equal Games ever. The IOC has introduced a number of relatively superficial and performative changes, such as encouraging each country to select both a male and female flag bearer. More substantially, each nation has been encouraged to send at least one male and one female athlete as part of its delegation.

Sport Management Assistant Professor Michele Donnelly says more needs to be done.

“While these are positive moves toward gender equality, they ignore really significant inequalities in many of the events on the Olympic programme including uniforms, rules, equipment, race distances and more,” Donnelly says. “These differences in the conditions of men’s and women’s participation need attention in order to claim that the Olympic Games are truly gender equal.”


Environmental issues

Heat will be the biggest environmental challenge to athlete performance and health at these Games, says Department of Kinesiology Professor Stephen Cheung, an expert in environmental physiology.

Heat can drastically decrease performance capacity in both elite and recreational athletes across all outdoor sports.

“Canadian athletes and sport scientists have been at the forefront of applied research and techniques to reduce heat impact and optimize performance over the past several decades of international competitions,” he says.

Cheung is available to speak about what happens to athletes when their bodies get too hot; how much hydration is really needed during physical activity in the heat; strategies for adapting to the heat; and how to stay cool in high temperatures.


Socio-economic impacts

Associate Professor of Sport Management and Director of Brock’s Centre for Sport Capacity Julie Stevens studies how people perceive the economic, social and environmental impact of sporting events and what the key considerations are when bidding for and hosting these events.

“Prior to the pandemic, projections indicated global sport tourism would experience double-digit growth and this would be driven by an increasing number of sport events,” Stevens says. “The appeal of the Olympics is its high profile and media exposure that capture international attention and improve public image of the host city. Given Tokyo Games authorities have closed the sport venues to spectators and no international tourists are allowed to enter the country, benefits such as economic and social impacts remain uncertain.”

She says economic impact studies of these large-scale sport events typically demonstrate the rise in economic activity, but this is mainly based upon visitor spending.

“With Tokyo and many other venue locations under lockdown regulations, organizers will need to expand how they assess the impact of the Games. The perceptions of residents will matter,” she says.

Stevens also researches sport tourism and other ways sport supports economic growth within a region.

“Given the Tokyo Games’ economic activity for tourism will likely be low, it is also valuable to explore other ways hosting the Games helps Japan’s and Tokyo’s economy such as through business opportunities related to sectors including infrastructure and construction, technology, media and manufacturing, for example,” she says. “A broader perspective on the impact of this large-scale event will be needed.”


Media impact

Also available to speak with the media is Assistant Professor of Sport Management Olan Scott, whose research focuses on how media communications shape and reflect issues of national identity, gender and race in the context of globally significant sporting events.

He’ll be watching how broadcasters frame Olympic coverage from a nationalistic and gendered perspective.

“My research has identified nationalistic bias in a variety of Olympic and Commonwealth Games and how male and female athletes were portrayed by announcers,” says Scott.

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