Tokyo’s Olympic Challenge

A cold, snowy morning in Tokyo set the scene for Lord Paul Deighton’s presentation on leadership, governance and accountability, three important aspects for any country rising to an Olympic challenge.

Lord Deighton’s experience in running the Olympic and Paralympic Games stems from his involvement with the London Games in 2012, when he was the CEO of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) from 2005 through to 2012.

He appeared confident about Tokyo’s ability to host the Games saying, “I know Tokyo 2020 is going to be absolutely fantastic,” and believes that innovation in Japan in the sectors of technology and fashion are especially attractive opportunities.

His passion for the Games dates back to 1964, the first Olympics he can remember and the impact they had on him as he listened to the coverage on the radio. “The memories you create during the Games are special,” he said.

Deighton then gave a series of tips to the attendees on the best ways to deliver a successful Games experience to all.

His first point involved knowing exactly how many days and weeks remain until the opening ceremony, as time is the one deadline that is non-negotiable. Having a solid grasp of time and what needs to be achieved during that time is key.

The second important aspect of good project management is to get the leadership team right. He revealed that you can do a lot by yourself as a manager, but having a good team behind you and hiring the right people to go on that journey to hosting a successful event is fundamental.

Building relationships is another major area for hosts of the Games. They include relationships with Olympic partners and committees, as well as domestic organisations such as the Government ministries and transport authorities. Engaging with the local population is essential, as it will be this group of people who ultimately volunteer and create the atmosphere within which the Games will be held. In the seven years from winning the bid to actually hosting the event, so much can happen and securing cross-party political support is crucial.

There are also a number of things to consider when planning in the early days, including planning venues, operational requirements, and how media, transport, and security will be handled.

Deighton also humorously enumerated the seven stages of hosting the Games: exhilaration, reality setting in, disillusionment, a search for the guilty, persecuting the innocent, delivering a great Games, and finally the glorification of those involved.

Guests at the event could rest assured, Tokyo doesn’t have to reinvent the Games, it just has to deliver them with a Tokyo flavour.

And how exactly can it do that, one might ask. Having an iron grip on time, money and functionality is essential, and the hard discussions happen three or four years in, he revealed. “You start with plans and a computer and end up driving a truck selling programs,” he quipped on the enormity of the project.

Figuring out how to make decisions and when is vital, as is not getting stuck in bureaucracy, especially as you are managing several organisations to work together for the country.

Diversity was an important keyword of London 2012, and Tokyo 2020 is a wonderful opportunity to channel that and get more women into senior management roles, said Deighton, reflecting on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of having 30% of women in senior management roles through his ‘womenomics’ initiative to increase economic growth.

Having specific goals of what one wants to achieve is also a key part of preparing a successful games. The former CEO of LOCOG, which has now been dismantled, revealed that galvanizing youngsters in the UK into doing sport, and creating an inspiring arena for athletes by building inspiring venues was a big part of their work. The ceremonies were also created to inspire a new generation of athletes for future global sporting events. LOCOG also sought to redevelop East London by opting to build the Olympic Park there, to change the way in which people viewed the Paralympics and Paralympians, and reenergize volunteering. Getting as many people in the UK involved in the Games was an important goal and, due to limited ticket numbers the torch relay was used to encourage local people across the country to be part of something special.

The seven-year journey was a successful one, but was not without its challenges. These included backlash against the London 2012 logo, tough discussions about budgets and raising sponsorship, the launch and increasing popularity of smartphones, pricing and selling tickets, planning the venues, finding the best person to direct the opening ceremony, and perhaps the biggest one of all, security in the wake of the terrorist attacks in London in July 2007.

Deighton’s final words of advice to the future organisers of Tokyo 2020 were to remain optimistic regardless of challenges, to get communication crystal clear and always repeat it, figure out the best ways to get new organisations on track to become decision makers and make them believe that what they are doing is great.

The minister took questions from the floor before leaving for his next engagement.

Photo credit BCCJ / Antony Tran


Tokyo 2020 will bring with it countless opportunities for UK companies to bring their business to Japan. Keep checking our Current Opportunities page for updates and business opportunities in this sector.

Our dedicated Olympics sector page compiles our entire global sporting events content.

Find out about Opportunities in Japan’s Global Sports Business in our free, recorded webinar (sign in required).

Learn about the benefits of attending trade missions through our video and accompanying article UK Firms Attend Global Sports Mission to Japan.

Find out about the Opportunities in Technology for Tokyo 2020 in our coverage of a round table event featuring Minister Sajid Javid at the British Embassy in Tokyo.

If you are a UK company considering market entry into Japan, contact one of our expert trade advisers for a Free Market Assessment.


Article by Vanessa Holden, March 2014