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And just like that, we’ve concluded yet another Olympic season: The Olympic torch is finally doused; and Tokyo has passed the baton to Paris. It will be another three years before the world will come together again (hopefully with a semblance of normalcy as we inch closer to herd immunity), but the lessons from Tokyo 2020 will continue to linger even after the Olympic flame has been extinguished. After all, Tokyo 2020 was arguably one of the most moving Olympic events ever staged – with relatable themes that touch on aspects of humanity, and the Tokyo 2020 serving as a call to address issues impacting societies on a macro scale. 

Here are some insights gleaned – in hindsight – following one of the most eventful Olympic seasons ever. 

Throwing the spotlight on mental health discussions

As the world awaited news around which sportsmen will be taking home the gold, the Tokyo 2020 athletes faced insurmountable pressure to be at the top of their game. The Olympic games, after all, are all about the survival of the fittest – and with Tokyo 2020 staged against the backdrop of a global pandemic, Olympic athletes had to cope with the additional challenge of adapting to new protocols like training bubbles and Olympic-only transport. And the pressure can be daunting, even for seasoned athletes, if four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the women’s gymnastics final is any indication. In the lead-up to Tokyo 2020, Naomi Osaka – the face of the Olympics – also pulled out of the French Open for a two-month mental health break. At the end of the day, athletes are still human.

Biles’ courageous withdrawal and Osaka’s powerful “It’s O.K. to Not Be O.K.” message (which landed Time magazine’s July 19 cover) thrust mental health into the global spotlight. Biles and Osaka have served as powerful mental health ambassadors, whose voices have set the stage for driving initiatives that better support people with mental issues. 

Paving the way for a sustainable Olympic future 

No other global event comes close to the Olympics: Through the years, the Olympics have become a showcase of athletic excellence, sportsmanship and global amity. But the organisers behind Tokyo 2020 have tried to go over and beyond these ideals: Positioned as the “first-ever carbon negative Olympics”, Tokyo 2020 endeavoured to put sustainability front and centre.

Sustainable materials were used for different purposes at Tokyo 2020. The cherry blossom-inspired Olympic torch was made of recycled aluminium. The Olympic cauldron was powered by propane. Olympic medals were crafted using metal from recycled computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices. Athletes slept on cardboard beds.

Tokyo 2020’s organisers also purchased 150 per cent of required carbon credits ahead of the games to offset greenhouse gas emissions during the event. Additionally, 99% of the materials used at Tokyo 2020 will be recycled or reused after the games are over. Tokyo 2020 has ushered in a new era for sustainability – catapulting the sustainability conversation to greater heights and serving as a gold standard for green events. 

A new milestone in the diversity & inclusion roadmap

Besides being touted as the “first-ever carbon negative Olympics”, Tokyo 2021 also broke records in sports history as the most gender-balanced Olympic event ever staged, with 49% women participants. 

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic movement responsible for the revival of the games, originally envisioned the Olympics to be male-dominated. 125 years after the first modern Olympic games in Athens, we’ve finally transcended the barriers of race, gender and ethnicity that characterised the initial years of the Olympic renaissance.

Asian-Black female tennis athlete Osaka lit the Olympic torch during the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony in a symbolic gesture that crystallised unity in diversity. Additionally, all 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) were required to have at least one female and male athlete (yet another Olympic first). And for all these developments to happen in Japan – considered to be one of the most conservative patriarchal societies, even in the modern world – is nothing short of a miracle. Humanity’s ideals, after all, have changed – and Olympics organisers simply danced to the music of the times, with new values to uphold and new visions to pursue. 

Dwindling viewership aside, Tokyo 2020 has truly hit the right notes when it comes to messaging – touching on the pressing themes affecting society-at-large. As we await the lighting of the Olympic torch in Paris, the onus is on brands and marketers to take these lessons to heart –  gleaning some inspiration from Tokyo 2020 to drive deeper conversations around mental health, sustainability and diversity & inclusion to inspire further action in the global community. 

Inspired to create campaigns that touch on these key themes – with the view to create relevant impact in wider communities? Our team has worked with numerous brands in designing strategic comms initiatives that spark community action. Reach out to our team to explore how we can work together to make a difference.

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