Hula’s Talks: Sports communications consultant Jon Tibbs hints at a “few surprises and a few things in store” at the Tokyo Olympic closing ceremony

Tibbs also offered his insight on how the media landscape and public opinion have shifted throughout the Games

Jon Tibbs, President of leading sports strategic brand consultancy JTA, reveals that the Olympic closing ceremony on August 8th will have some novel developments in store for its audience.

Jon Tibbs (ATR)
Jon Tibbs (ATR)

Tibbs, whose company’s clients include the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee, as well as several international federations and National Olympic Committees, divulged the news to Around the Rings founder Ed Hula on Hula’s “Tokyo Report” podcast. The Paris 2024 Organizing Committee will have a major role in Tokyo’s closing ceremony, where the Olympic flag is symbolically handed over to the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

“There’s a few surprises and a few things in store which are going to be a bit different on the 8th, Ed. But I can’t tell you any more than that”, Tibbs said.

“It won’t be the same in terms of interactivity, if there are no spectators allowed in. I’m sure they might consider allowing a few more of the Olympic family and some Japanese spectators in by that stage, but I honestly don’t know that. What I would say is: watch this space because there’s going to be quite a twist on this particular handover ceremony.”

As someone in charge of communication strategy for multiple key Olympic stakeholders, Tibbs also offered his insight on how the media landscape and public opinion have shifted throughout the Games. He says that while there was significant negative coverage at the start of the Tokyo Games particularly within Japan, this is not necessarily atypical of the Olympics in general.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 23, 2021. Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony Pool via REUTERS/Leon Neal
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 23, 2021. Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony Pool via REUTERS/Leon Neal

“The first ten days before the opening ceremony as the media begin to arrive, there’s a bit of a vacuum, and so the stories tend to be quite negative as people look for fault, they look for issues, they look to see what the scandals could be. And they also focus a lot on the political side of things, the costs, the IOC, Executive Board, and the IOC Session and all the dynamics and politics around that”.

“I think that’s been exactly the same situation here in Tokyo: there was a period of a week before the opening ceremony where all the stories were about COVID and whether the Games would be cancelled at the last minute and all of that, and it’s no different from the types of issues that Rio was facing and Sochi faced, and even London with their security issues before the Games”, Tibbs explained.

Tibbs went on to observe that public opinion of the Olympics both in Japan and overseas has markedly improved as spectators become more engaged in the competitions themselves; a phenomenon further helped by host nation Japan’s performance exceeding all expectations.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Judo - Men's 81kg - Medal Ceremony - Nippon Budokan - Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Gold medallist Takanori Nagase of Japan poses with his medal REUTERS/Annegret Hilse
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Judo - Men's 81kg - Medal Ceremony - Nippon Budokan - Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Gold medallist Takanori Nagase of Japan poses with his medal REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

“Watching the world’s best athletes perform... that’s what’s getting the stories. That’s what’s going in the headlines and you know, amazing feats and human endeavors and, and that’s what seems to be grabbing the attention more than weather [issues], more than COVID, more than no spectators in the venues.”

“I think the opening ceremony was a triumph and based on a moderate budget, and [Olympic organizers] managed to get that story across about how they cut the costs on that. And ever since then Japan has had a fantastic Games, winning far more medals at this early stage than they were expected to. And that’s really got the nation behind them. Everywhere you go near the venues you see fans cheering on the athletes as they go into their competition venues and so on.”

“The Japanese folks I’ve spoken to are hugely proud of two things. One, the fact that they’ve been able to put the Games on at all, and two, the fact that their athletes were doing so incredibly well without any fans there, cheering them on.”

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Basketball - Women - Group C - Australia v Belgium - Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan - July 27, 2021. A ticket booth is seen closed as spectators are not allowed inside the stadium REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Basketball - Women - Group C - Australia v Belgium - Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan - July 27, 2021. A ticket booth is seen closed as spectators are not allowed inside the stadium REUTERS/Brian Snyder

While he says it is pure speculation on his part, Tibbs believes that the shift in the Japanese public’s opinion of the Games could even prompt some local governments hosting the Games to allow a small number of spectators into venues.

“I think public opinion in Japan has shifted already in the last week to the extent that some they’re almost at that point now where the prefectures outside of Tokyo that are hosting venues are allowing a limited number of spectators in. So who knows, there may even be the prospect of some spectators being allowed into venues in Tokyo”, surmised Tibbs.

With media and team officials at the Games facing unprecedentedly rigid protocols, Tibbs was likewise asked about how he would rate the communication from Tokyo organizers and the IOC; a critical factor in ensuring the logistics and coverage of the Games go smoothly.

“They are doing as best they can under a very, very difficult situation. There are a lot of complaints coming in from different stakeholders as you’d expect about transport or about the testing regimes. Or if someone comes into contact with someone who may have been in contact with someone who tested positive that they have to go into 14 days quarantine, but they have a competition coming up”, he said, describing the COVID rules at Tokyo which have the hampered media’s ability to report on the Games.

“I think I’ve been impressed by how quickly both the organizing committee and the IOC are getting their head around the various emerging issues, none of which have ever happened before in the Olympic Games, and they seem to be getting a degree of flexibility. Japan is often accused of not being flexible and being quite rigid – I’ve been quite impressed by the degree of preparedness to be flexible and make some new changes as they go along. So, in that sense, I think the communication has been pretty good.”

“There could always be more communication, but it’s not been a radio silence at all.”

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