Cultural programming at Tokyo 2020: the impossible Olympic festival city?

IOC website screenshot | Olympic Agora (Aug 2021)

The Tokyo 2020 Games will be remembered as the Games without a live audience. They will be talked about as the ‘Covid Games’ that were forced to exclude spectators and collective gatherings.

The sporting competition field was protected to the best of the organisers’ ability — and it looked good on the screen — but, what about the cultural exchange field? And what about the Olympic city? Did it manifest?

Nippon Festival

As every previous Olympic edition since 1912, Tokyo had a mandate to present a cultural programme — the Cultural Olympiad — and this was launched straight after Rio in 2016, with ambitions to show 21st Japan beyond outdated clichés. The Olympic Organising Committee presented the Nippon Festival and a four-year ‘participation programme’ — involving contributions from around the country.

Tokyo 2020 Games Website (screenshot from Aug 2021)

Most of the participation programme has been delivered in Japanese exclusively so it is a programme difficult to understand abroad — despite it delivering symbolic value and opportunities for engagement at a local and regional level. The Nippon Festival, however, aimed to make a mark internationally and was designed to address the main Tokyo 2020 bid themes.

The “reconstruction Games” was a key dimension of Tokyo’s vision, using the Olympics as a platform to help rebuild the areas affected by the earthquake disaster of 2011. This translated into the community-conceived giant puppet Mocco, which journeyed symbolically from the devastated Tohoku region into Tokyo in 2021.

Screen shot from the Youtube film introducing ‘Reconstructing the Tohoku Region’

Diversity and Inclusion’ was also a leading concept, in a country where cultural diversity is not as normalised as in other developed countries, with low visibility for disabled and queer communities within mainstream environments. ONE is the segment of the Nippon Festival dedicated to celebrating diversity, bridging the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The above have been strands of a Festival which has remained true to its original vision but has failed to inspire and stand out within the Games narrative, due to limited — or old fashioned — communication strategies, lack of branding integration within the leading Games platforms and insufficient social media output. Despite the beautiful concept behind the Festival’s visual identity (an intelligent variation of the central Tokyo 2020 logo which demonstrates the coherence and quality of Tokyo’s graphic design identity) the Nippon Festival has not stood out sufficiently during Games time.

TokyoTokyo Festival

Beyond the Organising Committee, the Japanese contemporary arts world also wanted to partake in the Cultural Olympiad. The complexities of Olympic branding and approval processes, however, led to what is a common missed opportunity: a separation of Olympic cultural programming strands with little narrative connectors and no joint branding.

Regardless, a new art festival inspired by the Games was put together by the local authority: the Tokyo Tokyo Festival presented the city’s contemporary art scene and, despite its disconnect from Olympic branding, it has been successful attracting arts media coverage and public attention. It is a good example of a Games-time festival celebrating its host city: from buildings, to public baths and gardens.

Olympic Agora

An unprecedented cultural strand in these Games has been the contribution by the International Olympic Committee itself, which for the first time presented its take on how ‘culture meets sport’, showcasing the official version of what is meant by ‘Olympic spirit’ and ‘Olympic art’. The Olympic Agora opened as a large physical site in Tokyo at the end of June 2021 and combined presential and digital spaces for Olympic culture throughout the Games.

What place for culture and the Olympic city during these pandemic Games?

Commentators note that there has been little opportunity for residents and Games delegations to experience the Olympic city in 2021. Interventions such as the intriguing floating head presented by the TokyoTokyo Festival just before the Opening Ceremony raised eyebrows and encouraged conversation; the Olympic Agora presented eye-catching public artworks; finally, the Nippon Festival and participation programme presented locally sensitive works throughout Japan and materialised Tokyo’s Olympic bid vision. However, crowds were not allowed into any of these interventions — and the international Games narrative did not include sufficient reference to the rich diversity of these activities combined.

Masayume, the floating head presented as part of the Tokyo Tokyo Festival

Live Sites were also discouraged — and the popular hospitality houses that many participating nations present at Games time were considerably scaled down. This means that there was little space for shared physical euphoria during Tokyo 2020. With or without art programming, gathering together to celebrate was not feasible.

Much thinking needs to take place about the future of cultural programming at the Games. There should be less fragmentation, more cross-referencing when promoting activities, and more effective ways of adapting brands and visual identities so that it is possible to appreciate the many dimensions of Olympic arts and culture — and help overcome the sense of isolation audiences may experience.

Reconstruction, recovery, inclusion and togetherness were the Tokyo Olympic keywords. They were meaningful at the time of the bid and even more poignant during a pandemic. The Opening and Closing ceremonies presented this message loud and clear. The associated cultural programmes explored these concepts even further but failed to align sufficiently to make as meaningful a mark as they should have.

Future Olympics need to keep opening-up their understanding of what cultural programming can do, not just as an Olympic Charter requirement but as a platform to address difficulties and turning material challenges into inspirational narratives. The official Games cultural programme should be an opportunity for fun and celebration, connected with the unique characteristics of respective Games hosts as well as the diverse centenary heritage of the Olympic movement. The Cultural Olympiads of the future need to keep working towards a clearer interrelation between organising committee mandates, city-led arts expressions and IOC-hosted Agoras.

This article has been published as part of ‘Olympic and Paralympic Analysis 2020‘, a major academic report involving over 100 research contributors from around the world.

Giant inflatables and flying dancers. Olympic art has always turned heads.

In the days before the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony, people were treated to the sight of a giant head floating over the city. Entitled Masayume, this oversized balloon installation by Japanese artist collective Me, was part of the Tokyo Tokyo Festival], as an arts response to the Olympic Games. 

Art has long accompanied the arrival of the Olympics in a city. Budgets might vary, but as the largest mega-event out there, local organisations and the Olympic Organising Committee both seek to capitalise on the attention the Games garner by generating extracurricular cultural moments that echo the athletic accomplishments in the stadiums.

In this article, Beatriz García discusses the history of iconic Olympic art interventions and debates the latest experience in Tokyo.

Access this paper via The Conversation

‘Let Space Speak’ | Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony

This Olympic Opening Ceremony offers poignant images of what is ‘not’ there

One of the things that struck me the most during Japan’s 2016 Forum of Sport & Culture was a talk by a Japanese living national treasure on the importance of empty space – and nothingness – in Japanese culture.

The opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020 has had to be reconceived beyond anyone’s imagination, with organisers working on myriad alternative narrative threads from the outset. By the 23rd August 2021, we ended up with a ceremony memorable for its restraint and careful waiving of difficult subjects from the go.

It was good to see the inclusion of some humour – a few vignettes, such as the lighting of Tokyo’s iconic sights or the clever representation of all pictograms – were reminiscent of London 2012, the first ceremony to openly include unabashed humour, with the figure of Mr Bean bored while playing Chariots of Fire or the Queen jumping-off a plane – but the most striking visuals involved outstanding markers of emptiness and void.

Markers of empty space were the row after row of unpeopled seats in the 68,000-capacity stadium, a prominent background to flag raising and formal speeches; other such markers included the generous ‘social distancing’ space between performers, particularly during the scenes representing the isolation of athletes in training throughout 2020.

“markers of empty space were … rows of unpeopled seats…
or the generous social distancing space between performers…

These are all iconic images that will survive the test of time and, like the sight of athletes and dignataries wearing masks, they will take a prominent place in future symbolic representations of the Tokyo Games.

Japanese commentators have referred to Japanese culture’s capacity to ‘let space speak’. Space – empty space – certainly spoke during the opening of the postponed Tokyo Games and this added credibility and reflective beauty to the experience of what may have been one of the most expensive ceremonies ever while also, by far, the most understated and sober opening of a Games in living memory.

London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Evaluation

Photo: Beatriz Garcia during Piccadilly Circus Circus, part of the London 2012 Festival

In November 2011, the major stakeholders in the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival commissioned Dr Beatriz Garcia and her team at the  Institute of Cultural Capital (ICC) to produce an assessment of the multiple impacts of hosting the Cultural Olympiad. The final report was published in April 2013.

Download the Full Report or ExecutiveSummary.

The ICC received a broad brief to assess a complex and multi-layered object of study, which has changed considerably from its inception as the London 2012 culture chapter within the Candidature File in 2004, to its formal launch in 2008 and its culmination with the London 2012 Festival in 2012. This research and resulting report documents this journey and offers an objective assessment of the value, immediate impacts and legacy opportunities brought by the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It assesses its aims and objectives, how these have been achieved and the resulting impact across five main areas:

  • Raising the bar for cultural programming
  • Engaging audiences and communities
  • Developing tourism
  • Governance and partnership approach
  • Placing culture at the heart of the Games

Structure of the report

The report is structured in 6 chapters and a Conclusion

  • Chapter 1: Introduction, includes an overview of the key Cultural Olympiad milestones, strands of programming and statistical indicators, the report is organised into five main thematic chapters:
  • Chapter 2: Raising the bar for cultural programmingoffers a closer look at each programming strand, assesses in detail the unprecedented scope of the programme and considers evidence of achievement to meet core values such as inspiring young people and showcasing Deaf and disabled artists.
  • Chapter 3: Engaging audiences and communities assesses the programme’s considerable outreach, looking at the volume, diversity, depth and likely sustainability of public engagement across audiences, visitors, participants and volunteers.
  • Chapter 4: Developing tourism focuses on the available evidence about immediate domestic and international tourism impacts and the opportunities brought by the Cultural Olympiad to grow culture-related tourism.
  • Chapter 5: Governance and partnership approaches discusses the programme’s complex operational framework, its sophisticated approach to secure funding and stakeholder support across the UK and the impacts of such an approach on multi-sector and sustainable partnership development.
  • Chapter 6: Culture at the heart of the Games discusses the programme’s capacity to remain central to the Games experience, from the strategies put in place to meet this objective, to its impact on opinion formers, publics and cultural stakeholders.

The Conclusion offers a brief reflection on key lessons and opportunities for legacy, particularly for future Games hosts and the hosts of one-off large cultural events, for which the knowledge base had so far been sparse.

This report is complemented by two Appendices offering supporting technical information as well as five dedicated Case Study reports, and a joint summary report offering Reflections_on_the_Cultural_Olympiad_and_London_2012_Festival by its director, Ruth Mackenzie.

Liverpool in danger of losing its World Heritage status

Find below a report making the case for Liverpool to retain its World Heritage Site (WHS) award. The city has been on the UNESCO WHS endangered list since 2012 due to the proposed construction of the Liverpool Waters project.

Many discussions have ensued over the years, with UNESCO agreeing to offer the city an extension back in 2018. However, by June 2021, a recommendation has been made for UNESCO to delete Liverpool from the WHS list. The final decision will be made in late July 2021.

Reflections on what is sustainable within urban World Heritage Sites are very valuable at this point. How can cities continue to develop and evolve while also protecting – and enhancing – their heritage?

  • You can find here a report produced by the Institute of Cultural Capital in 2013, about the complexity of arguing for the value of retaining World Heritage Site status in cities aspiring to progress with their urban developments. Back in 2013-2014, city leaders in Liverpool – and UNESCO representatives – failed to find sufficient nuance around the debate on ‘heritage’ and ‘development’, with many perceiving these as two opposing sides of the equation. At the ICC, we argued for more locally sensitive (as well as more aspirational) models of heritage assessment.
  • Find here the report produced this year (2021) by the Liverpool World Heritage Task Force. You can also read (below) the letter produced by Michael Parkinson, author of this new report .

Dear Colleague

As you will  know Liverpool has had World Heritage Site status since 2004 as ‘the supreme example of a commercial port at a time of Britain’s greatest global influence’. However, it is at risk of losing it at a meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee  this July.

Many key institutions  and partners in Liverpool are opposed to and determined to prevent the city losing this status. They believe it would be unfair and  harmful to Liverpool – as well as  to the wider UK heritage position. In particular the newly elected Mayor Joanne Anderson is calling for UNESCO to delay its decision so that Liverpool can properly present its case and it achievements to UNESCO and the wider world in the coming months. 

As part  of presenting that case the Mayor’s World Heritage Site Task Force which was set up in 2018 has prepared with  Liverpool City Council the attached  report – ‘Liverpool: A World Heritage City.’

We believe it demonstrates that Liverpool:

  • does take and has taken its heritage seriously 
  • has invested substantially in heritage already and plans to invest more in future
  • sees heritage  as crucial to its long term economic and social development
  • has and can balance the need to protect its heritage but also to deliver economic  prosperity to the many, still very deprived areas of the city

The report  calls for Liverpool, the UK government and UNESCO to work in partnership  to ensure the city retains its current valuable  and valued World Heritage Site status.

Please do feel free to share it with any  colleagues you think would value seeing it.

As a member of the Task Force involved  in preparing this report, I with my colleagues  would be very glad to hear your views of: the issues it  raises; the evidence it presents; the arguments it makes  and the solution it proposes.

Thanks for your support 

Best wishes 

Professor Michael Parkinson CBE

Olympic Cities of Culture

The CC:RO has documented the evolution of the official Olympic Games cultural programme since it was launched in 1912, and Olympic Movement cultural policy frameworks since their first establishment in 1906. Fieldwork has been conducted in situ at Olympic Games editions since 1992. This work has taken place in collaboration with the Olympic Studies Centre (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona) and the Centre for Olympic Studies (University of New South Wales). The work has been possible thanks to the support of the Centre for Cultural Policy Research (University of Glasgow), the University of Liverpool and the Institute of Cultural Capital; and thanks to residencies at University of Technology, Sydney; the International Olympic Academy at Ancient Olympia, and the Olympic Studies Centre at the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne. The research has been funded by the British Academy, the Newton Fund, the Universities China Committee, Arts Council England, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee.

Find below an overview of the main Olympic Cities of Culture projects stored within the Observatory.
A broader range of stories is published via the specialist magazine Culture @ the Olympics

Comparative Olympic city and global cultural policy studies

Olympic city research

Tokyo 2020

  • Tokyo 2020 Cultural Olympiad (2016 onwards) This project started with observations at the launch of the four year Cultural Olympiad programme and evolved into 2019, with final preparations towards the Olympic year. With the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games in to 2021, the research opens new questions as to the capacity for Olympic cultural programmes to retain relevance, be used during the interim period or risk being placed in the back burner.
  • See: A series of essays responding to the postponement announcement in 2020.
  • See all Tokyo 2020 stories

PyeongChang 2018

Rio 2016

  • Brand image of Brazil in the wake of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (2016-2017) – Project funded by a British Academy Newton Fund, involving a collaboration with the University of Sao Paulo, as well as inception funding from Brazilian communication agency Aberje. This research has enabled detailed analysis of national and international narratives of Brazil and its two main urban hubs, Rio and Sao Paulo, as centres for creativity and artistic innovation. The research asks the question: have the Olympic and Paralympic Games contributed (or hindered) the portrait of Brazil as a creative nation?
  • See all Rio 2016 Stories

London 2012

  • London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Legacy Evaluation (2011-2013) – Research commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad Steering Group, involving the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), Arts Council England, Department Media Culture and Sport, Legacy Trust UK. The research looks into the cultural, social and related economic legacies of hosting this programme and the associated London 2012 Festival.
  • London 2012 Knowledge Transfer (2011-2012) Research coordinated by Dr Vassil Girginov with funding from Podium, the Further & Higher Education Unit for the London 2012 Games. Beatriz’ contribution is focused on the analysis of the bidding, delivery and legacy framework for the Cultural Olympiad and has resulted in a chapter contribution within a two part monograph, published by Routledge.
  • See all London 212 stories

Beijing 2008

  • Cultural programming at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games (2008 ) Research funded by the Universities’ China Committee in London. This project involved working as an embedded journalist within the Non-Accredited Media Centre at the Beijing Games and field observations of the various 2008 Olympic Arts Festivals and fringe cultural activities in the city during Games time.

Sydney 2000

  • Analysis of the programming, management and promotion of the Sydney 1997-2000 Olympic Arts Festivals (1999-2002) – Research supported by a Mobility Grant by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), an Olympic Research Grant by the Olympic Studies Centre at the UAB, and grants by the International Olympic Academy and the Olympic Museum –International Olympic Committee. The research results have published as The Olympic Games and Cultural Policy (2012).

Sochi 2014

European Capitals of Culture

The CC:RO has documented the experience of European Capital of Culture (ECoC) hosts since the initiative’s launch in 1985. Research frameworks have been devised and data has been gathered from 60 host cities in 30 European countries between 1985 and the present. This work has taken place within the Centre for Cultural Policy Research (University of Glasgow), the Impacts 08 research team at the University of Liverpool, the Institute of Cultural Capital at the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, and in collaboration with researchers and research units across European universities. The research has been funded by UK Research Council grants (Arts and Humanities Research Council, Economic and Social Resarch Council), as well as the support of the European Parliament and the Creative Europe Programme by the European Commission.

Find below an overview of the main European Capital of Culture projects the Observatory stores:

  • European Capitals of Culture: Success Strategies and Long-Term Effects (2013) This study, funded by the European Parliament, assesses the long-term effects of hosting the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) programme since its inception in 1985, and discusses the organisational and policy implications of these findings. Over 60 cities in 30 European countries were surveyed by a team based at the Institute of Cultural Capital in collaboration with international colleagues.
  • Impacts 08 – European Capital of Culture Research Programme (2005-2010). Longitudinal research programme into the cultural, social, economic and environmental impacts of Liverpool’s becoming 2008 European Capital of Culture. The programme was commissioned by Liverpool City Council and was jointly developed by the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University. It is the most extensive research programme ever conducted on an ECoC and its final report is a key referent accross Europe. [Final Report]  [Programme website]
  • European Capitals of Culture Policy Group (2009-2010). International network of researchers and programmers of the European Capital of Culture initiative working on a common framework for ECoC assessment and delivery. The network was funded by the Creative Europe programme and led to a series of workshops, led by Liverpool and the Impacts 08 research programme, with the collaboration of teams from Stavanger, Marseille, Turku, the Rhur and Kosice. [Network blog] [Final report]
  • Cultural Sustainability? Liverpool in 2008 – (2007-2010) AHRC and ESRC Impact Fellowship to study the cultural policy implications of hosting the 2008 European Capital of Culture in Liverpool. This research, conducted within the University of Liverpool in partnership with the Impacts 08 team, evidences the symbolic impact of the ECoC on people’s sense of place.
  • Understanding the Long-term Legacies of Glasgow 1990, European City of Culture (2002- 2005) Research conducted within the Centre for Cultural Policy Research  at the University of Glasgow. This four-year research programme assessed the long term cultural impacts and legacies of hosting the title. It established innovative methodologies for narrative analysis to capture Glasgow’s image renaissance post 1990, and it was the first study to follow up the City Image and Cultural Governance impacts of a European Capital of Culture, ten years on.
  • Impacts 18 – European Capital of Culture Legacies, 10 years on (2016-2019) Conducted within the Institute of Cultural Capital, this project captures the long-term effects of hosting an ECoC in Liverpool, a decade after 2008. The programme revisits all thematic impact clusters assessed by its predecessor programme, Impacts 08City image; Cultural participation; Cultural vibrancy, Economic development and Cultural governance This is the first time a city fully replicates a multiple impact study to document legacies more than a decade onwards.

Report citation and project access:

Garcia, B. , Cox, T. (2013) European Capitals of Culture: Success Strategies and Long-Term Effects  Brussels: European Parliament

Report citation and project access:

Garcia, B., Melville, R. and Cox, T. (2010) Creating an Impact – Liverpool’s experience as European Capital of Culture. Liverpool: University of Liverpool


Report citation and project access:

Garcia et al (2010) An International Framework of Good Practice in research and delivery of the European Capital of Culture Programme. Brussels: European Commission

What Future for Festivals? Report

“We need festivals – now more than ever!” declares Salzburg Global report on the current state and what comes next for the beleaguered sector, post-pandemic


Find here access to the Final Report of the 2020 Salzburg Global Seminar , co-curated by our Director, Dr Beatriz Garcia, and dedicated to exploring the question: ‘What Future for Festivals’?

One hundred years ago at Schloss Leopoldskron, Max Reinhardt, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal founded the world-renowned Salzburg Festival as a “Festival of Peace” to transform “the whole town into one stage.” To celebrate this centenary Salzburg Global Seminar originally scheduled the program What Future for Festivals? for March 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was postponed to October and subsequently moved online due to continuing travel restrictions and health regulations.

Little did we know while developing the session in 2019, just how compelling and urgent the question at the center of our program – what future for festivals? – would be. Few sectors have been hit as hard by the pandemic as the cultural sector, with festivals being particularly vulnerable to the fallout from the compounded global crises – not just COVID-19, but also the climate crisis, and worldwide social and economic upheaval.

We know that festivals of all types and sizes have energized communities since time immemorial. Rooted in rituals, stories and faiths, they have embodied local and indigenous cultures and celebrated deep bonds to nature, land and the seasons. Modern festivals range from intimate experiments to gigantic mega-events, showcasing ever more diverse creative practices, from the performing, visual, and traditional arts to photography, film, literature, street arts, food, light, design and ideas-based, future-focused, eco-inspired events.

Whatever their intended focus – creative innovation, activism, city branding, wellbeing, community building, pure entertainment – festivals have always spoken to fundamental human needs. They have allowed us to share in a density and intensity experience, revel in specialness beyond day-to-day routines, and join – as the German word “Festspiele” infers – in “celebration and play.”

What Future for Festivals? Salzburg Global Seminar

What is the future of festivals as we look ahead to continuing travel constraints, unpredictable limitations on public events, and looming economic crises? And, even with COVID-19 vaccines now forthcoming in some parts of the world, how will both the festival landscape and festival goers themselves have changed in the interim? How will festivals adapt and cope with these altered circumstances? These and many other questions were at the center of our online discussions in October and November 2020.

This report and the accompanying series of thought-pieces authored by several program participants share reflections on the past year and insights on the challenging path ahead for festivals. While we identified even more questions than answers during our conversations, one thing is certain: we need festivals now more than ever. The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp relief that festivals are not just “nice to have” – we must have them to thrive and not just survive.

Human beings need to gather, to celebrate, they need their spirits to soar, to witness artistic genius, to feel chills and goosebumps run down their spines, to revel in the thrill of live performance and shared experience, to clap and be applauded, to amaze and be amazed, to laugh, shout, and be joyful together.

Without such experiences we may function, but we will not be truly alive.

What Future for Festivals? Salzburg Global Seminar

The Culture and Education District, London

The Institute of Cultural Capital conducted this scoping study for the Arts and Humanities Research Council in 2017.

The study assessed the value of the emerging Culture and Education District (CED, rebranded as East Bank since 2018) in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This is a case study of a ‘creative clustering’ in the making.

The study involved ten months of expert observation and analysis by a multidisciplinary research team led by Dr Beatriz Garcia, with Dr Michael Atkins as lead research support and Stephen Crone as report editing assistant.

In conducting this research, the Institute of Cultural Capital & the University of Liverpool (Image and Governance strand) worked in collaboration with the What Works Research Centre & the London School of Economics (Economic strand), City University (Creative strand) and Loughbourough University (Social strand).

Find below access to the main reports produced as part of this research.

Areas of assessment: Potential impact areas

Background material

When the Games can’t go on

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been postponed. It is only the fourth time this happens in 124 years, the only three previous occasions being due to World War I and World War II.

The global virus pandemic of 2020 is forcing a halt on all international sport and cultural mega-events and this raises meaningful questions regarding the significance of such large celebrations and the extent to which it is essential or not to see them happen.

In this collection of articles and short film, Dr Beatriz Garcia discusses the importance of finding creative ways of sharing stories about major events and what makes them meaningful. Beatriz argues in favour of artists – as distinct from marketing and communication teams – playing a leading role to tell such stories while on lockdown.

Reflections from Beatriz Garcia

the main test of value for mega-events is their capacity to act as platforms for storytelling that inspire communities worldwide.

As I have argued for the last 20 years, the main test of value for mega-events is their capacity to act as platforms for storytelling that inspire communities worldwide. In this sense, far from seeing current cancellations and postponements as a route into oblivion, organisers should find alternative ways of sharing what it has taken them to prepare for their event and the reasons why hundreds of thousands of people are not just financially but emotionally invested in such grand occasions.

The Tokyo Games organisers were starting their story-telling on the 12 March, with the initiation of their torch relay, which was lit in Ancient Olympia and promoted through pre-recorded promotional films of open air runners and cheering crowds. It was the worst timing imaginable and the narrative, unadapted as it was to the news of the day, felt inappropriate to a week marked by growing numbers of nations going into population lockdown. With the formal postponement of the Games, organisers now have time to rethink and repurpose their narrative. There is much that can be shared about what has taken place since preparations started in 2013, what Japan has been building for and what explains the value and significance of these Games in our times.

Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games in 1964, and this was the chance for Japan to tell the story of rebuilding their nation in the aftermath of World War II. It will be fascinating to observe how Japan may tell us the story of what it takes to host the Games again in the aftermath of a global pandemic. In this sense, it is a valuable challenge to have the leaders of the largest sporting mega-event in the world use their skills and resources to share and explain the stories behind the Games, that is, the cultural and societal context to the sporting competition and theit multibillion infrastructure investments.

Why do the Olympics continue to attract the attention and support of over 206 nations, 124 years after they were originally launched?

Why do the Games matter?

Why do we care?

  • See my article for The Conversationfocusing on Tokyo 2020.
  • See my article for Arts Professional, discussing why now is the time to look beyond mega-events as catalysts for real estate growth and commercial profit and rethink why we need them.
  • See a short (home made!) video, here

Follow additional stories on the Olympic Games via  Culture @ the Olympics.