Payne: Tokyo postponement ‘mind-boggling in its complexity’ but no Winter Olympics knock-on effect

Former IOC marketing director Michael Payne. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images for BT)

Olympic marketing expert Michael Payne believes that the postponing of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will not have a knock-on effect on the subsequent Winter Olympics, but acknowledges that the complications in delaying the Games are “mind-boggling”.

The International Olympic Committee today announced the delay of the Games after talks held between Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and IOC president Thomas Bach amid the global spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The rescheduled Olympics will be held no later than the summer of 2021 but no further details on a new timing have been established yet.

Payne has advocated a one-year postponement, saying that a delay until the autumn, which has been suggested in some quarters, does not work because of the continued uncertainty and threat of having to postpone for a second time.

Payne, who headed Olympic marketing for 21 years and now works with many established and new TOP Partners and other Olympic stakeholders, also predicted that a rescheduled Games could be the greatest ever and play a major symbolic role in a post Covid-19 world.

Moving the Games to 2021 will not, Payne said, have a knock-on effect on subsequent Winter and Summer Olympics. Shifting Tokyo’s Games to the middle of 2021 would create a very short lead-in before the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to take place in Beijing from February 4 to 20, 2022.

However, speaking ahead of today’s announcement, Payne told SportBusiness: “This is ring-fenced around the issues of Tokyo. For the IOC and a few NOCs [National Olympic Committees] it would require intense planning but let’s not forget that [until 1992] they used to run two Olympic Games in the same year. I don’t believe there will be a domino effect.

“This is finding a solution to Tokyo; the only effect would be on the international sporting calendar and there may be a need to adjust the window for a few weeks [to create space for all events].”

Payne described a postponement as “mind-boggling in its complexity” but maintained that “all the issues and challenges which come up can be worked through”.

Similarly, he feels the commercial and financial impact of a switch may have been overplayed in some quarters.

Payne remarked: “The impact on revenue and cash flow is not as great as some people imply. The IOC and Olympic Family get their revenue from TV rights and TOP sponsorship deals. If the Games take place the rights stay intact but there may be adjustments required on cash flow.

“There is marginal impact on revenue while in terms of expenditure they may be cash flow issues for NOCs which need to find deposits on training facilities among other expenses.

“In Japan the national Organising Committee has already done the heavy lifting… the major investments have been made. The costs there are about thing like delaying the sale of the apartments on the athlete’s village and keeping the national Organising Committee headcount up to speed.

“The TOP Partners I work with say they will support any IOC decision. If there is a postponement of a year it probably serves their marketing agenda even better as right now campaigns have had to be put on hold.”

On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said that it had given itself four weeks to decide on a rescheduling of the Tokyo 2020 Games but came under increasing pressure from national Olympic committees, national sporting bodies and athletes to announce a postponement.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Payne said that, while the host city contract gives the IOC the ability to cancel the Games, neither the governing body nor the Japanese government see that as an option, leaving postponement as the only logical course of action.

He noted: “The IOC has to bring the Japanese government and NOC with them. It has taken a little time for them to come to terms with the fact they will have to consider postponement and that it is the only option.”

Payne believes that Japanese culture and fears over loss of face contributed to their initial reluctance to move on postponement but that pressure from athletes and the decision of the likes of Australia and Canada not to send teams made it inevitable.

He said: “The IOC has been trying to engage Japanese on plan B discussions for a while, but they were holding onto the hope we wouldn’t have to go down that road.”

International federations, Discovery offer support 

News of the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games was quickly backed by various international federations.

World Athletics, one of the international federations to have pressed for a postponement, said that it welcomed the decision.

World Athletics stated: “It is what athletes want and we believe this decision will give all athletes, technical officials and volunteers some respite and certainty in these unprecedented and uncertain times.”

The international governing body continued: “World Athletics stands ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date for the Olympic Games in 2021 and has already been in discussion with the Organising Committee of the World Athletics Championships Oregon 21 regarding the possibility of moving the dates of this highly popular worldwide event. They have assured us that they will work with all of their partners and stakeholders to ensure that Oregon is able to host the World Athletics Championships on alternative dates, including dates in 2022.”

Raul Calin, the International Table Tennis Federation secretary general described the decision as “a message of hope”.

He said: “Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held and the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee can count on the support of the ITTF, as always, to make these Games the greatest in history. We have been partners in very good times, and we will be stronger partners also in moments of difficulty.”

World Archery noted that the postponement would have a “wide impact on sport, including the qualification procedures for the Games themselves and the international calendars in 2020 and 2021”.

However, the federation’s president Ugur Erdener remarked: “We commend the conscientious and brave decision taken by Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee to delay this summer’s Games in the face of an unprecedented challenge to humanity. World Archery appreciates the transparent and open dialogue initiated by both parties and enters this period confident that when the Olympic and Paralympic Games are held in Japan they will be a success.”

Fina, the world body for aquatic sport, expressed its backing and said it would also “work closely with the host organising committee of the 2021 Fina World Championships in Fukuoka, with the Japan Swimming Federation and with the Japanese public authorities, in order to determine flexibility around the dates of the competition, if necessary and in agreement with the IOC.”

World Sailing said that it “supports the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee decision to ensure the health and well-being of athletes, fans and support personnel worldwide”.

Klaus Schormann, president of modern pentathlon’s UIPM, said: “The IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee have the full support of UIPM in their decision to postpone the Olympic Games, which has been held every four years since London 1948.”

Meanwhile, Discovery, the US-based broadcast group that holds the Olympics media rights in Europe (excluding Russia), said that it “fully supports the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee’s plan to stage the Olympic Games in 2021 and to make every effort to ensure the well-being of spectators, athletes, staff and the international community”.

Discovery added: “Our essential planning and deliverables are complete and will now shift into next year. We will continue to develop our products and offerings to best serve our customers and marketing partners in 2021.”

The broadcaster holds the rights in Europe from 2018 to 2024 in a deal worth €1.3bn ($1.38bn).