Andrew Stevens: How the Tokyo Olympics 2020 will help London businesses


And how Tokyo 2020 is benefitting from the London Games

Urban adviser Andrew Stevens is working on promoting Tokyo Olympics Games 2020 here in the UK. This is his first column talking about all things Olympics.

For the masses it was an ungodly 5am in Tokyo’s Komazawa Stadium, for the selected few it was 5pm in the rainy Buenos Aires Hilton.

For me and a handful of Japanese colleagues it was 9pm on a Saturday evening in the sticky basement bar of a Japanese restaurant in central London where we huddled around an iPad to watch the result of the 125th International Olympic Commission Session. In the end, it proved worth the effort – Tokyo won a hefty 60-36 landslide to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the first Summer Games in Japan for 56 years.

Yet as Japan’s political elite leapt from their seats in Buenos Aires to cheer the result (albeit with a hefty price tag for a nation deeply in the red), there was a sense that we in London weren’t as far removed from the proceedings as you might think – last month’s 2012 one year on euphoria was still hanging in the air aside.

For starters, following Tokyo’s buttoned-up – even by its own admission “disjointed” – 2016 bid, Tokyo has emerged triumphant in part because of its decision to enlist London-based communications agency Seven46. The firm was brought in not just to polish but also to ‘westernise’ its second attempt, which “kept the best and improved the rest” of its original proposal.

This not only saw hitherto monolingual PM Shinzo Abe and Tokyo governor Naoki Inose deliver their final pitches in English (certainly an eye-opener to any students of Japanese politics) but also prompted some good old-fashioned well-oiled corridor diplomacy in the Hilton by the bid committee – a skill that comes less easily to the Japanese than most.

Yes, some in London may have preferred a European or Euro-Asian Games, not least for ease of travel and the closer commercial opportunities, but we quickly played the card we were dealt.

Barely 24 hours after the IOC announcement in Buenos Aires London mayor Boris Johnson was already out addressing a UKTI event in Canary Wharf talking about the opportunities for UK companies in Tokyo 2020.

On top of the praise for Zaha Hadid’s 2012-influenced “mad bicycle helmet” Tokyo Olympic Stadium, the mayor suggested that other London firms could learn from the successes of Brompton Bikes and top-end fashion brands in exporting. He even speculated that a London-based ice cream manufacturer that’s currently flavour of the month in the Middle East would find a willing palate in humid Tokyo.

UKTI claim they are waiting for “plans to coalesce” to gauge opportunities for British businesses, but early indications suggest our proven expertise in design, IT, communications, sustainability and security will be in demand.

The large-scale infrastructure projects, which are desperately needed to help Tokyo deal with the influx of an anticipated 920,000 daily visitors, are likely to go to the hungry local market, but this doesn’t mean there are not major opportunities for UK business. 

The on-going situation in disaster-hit Tohoku has diverted labour and materials and has constricted supply and driven up costs. Luckily London’s expertise in sustainable construction means that our pectoral of consultants will be perfectly placed to help Japan mitigate this challenge.

The other problem is that the view from 2013. Just think how many existing plans will be undone by the accelerated technological and societal progress we will encounter over the next seven years? We have not even begun to see all the possible opportunities that will become available.

Twitter didn’t even exist in July 2005 when Jacques Rogge announced from Singapore that London would stage the 2012 games. By last summer though, as much energy was spent hashtagging by millions of viewers worldwide as was expended on the track through.

And the opportunities don’t end with the Olympics. Outside of diligent Olympics planning in Tokyo, work continues towards a low carbon liveable metropolis. The hope is that this may go on to inform other global cities on how to cope with the emerging challenges of 21st century urban life, like ageing populations and post-growth economic realities.

Progress is being made on new technologies like Nissan’s smart watch systems and driverless cars which will all have a big impact not only on the games, but Tokyo’s daily life. UK businesses and policymakers should be keeping their ears close to the ground and seeing how they can contribute to, and learn from, the technological innovations taking place.

We’ve already seen what London firms can do to deliver for Tokyo. It is now time to take that further and consider how we can help Tokyo recreate what we experienced ourselves last summer, while looking at ways the two great cities can help one another overcome the challenges of the post-growth urbanised age in which these Games are staged.

Andrew Stevens is an urban adviser, researcher and communications consultant.  A Fellow and former deputy editor of CityMayors.com, he has written widely on city branding and urban development, as well as advising Tokyo on its marketing and representation in the UK.  You can follow him at @urbanrescomms