The primary reason for our visit to Tokyo was to deliver the keynote speech at an international conference on Lesson learning from the London Olympic and Paralympic Games for Tokyo 2020: potential and issues in sports policy and legacy.
The focus of my presentation was on ‘hard’ legacy – economic growth, regeneration and facilities and specific changes to policy (and, indeed very high levels of continuity) in elite sport since 2005. To summarise my advice from the presentation:
- Starting early is paramount – as much action as possible should be taking place now (or should have already happened) as legacy absolutely needs to be planned;
- Targets are important but have to be linked to concrete actions and accountability mechanisms (for example, there are very ambitious targets to double the current rate of volunteering in the Tokyo area);
- That a key lesson from London 2012 is in spreading events, facilities, building and profile across Japan as far as is possible, and not concentrating on one area of Tokyo;
- That other major events (particularly the 2019 Rugby World Cup) should be explicitly linked to Tokyo 2020, with a comprehensive legacy plan;
- That the Games can provide a stimulus for far better co-ordinated working at different levels of government. Japan has an advantage here in that sport is in the same Ministry as other key policy areas, including education.
Speaking at this high-profile conference and engaging with senior level, international decision makers was a great experience. The other striking feature of the conference was its breadth – way beyond a fairly traditional sports or academic conference that I would typically attend in the UK. The speakers and the audience included lawyers, economists, commercial partners and experts in some really interesting and completely different areas including crowd modelling and robotics. The level of sophistication and innate confidence around big data and the use of technology was on a completely different scale to the UK and Europe more widely and the audience clearly felt that technology was so obviously a key part of legacy that there was no talk at all of how we need to get people active instead of using technology.
The day reinforced to me the benefits of working with non-traditional partners, in engaging internationally, in listening to people who are not intrinsically positive or knowledgeable about sport and in challenging our assumptions. The other UK keynote speaker at this conference was Dr Chris Mackintosh from Manchester Metropolitan University who we know from previous work, particularly on Reconomics Plus. Chris is skilled at challenging the assumption that hosting major events and legacy is always a positive thing and also that the role of micro level, qualitative research does not have the status in decision making that it deserves.
There were lots of examples internationally that I am hoping to follow up in more detail, but one particularly striking example was from Singapore. All citizens have been given $100 which is restricted to spending on sport, exercise and related areas. They have good quality, but hugely under-utilised facilities, and are thinking radically about how to change this. In some ways, I’ve come back feeling grateful about a number of things – our relative work-life balance and work culture, the status of sport in policy making, the economy and the much more advanced work around equality
and diversity. There are big lessons for us too though – the first is to be more ambitious with target setting (though my earlier point about making these realistic and for there to be proper accountability still stands), the need to work more across sectors and we also need to improve the way we use technology.
I am looking forward to working further with partners in Tokyo and, a bit longer term, seeing them deliver what I am sure will be a phenomenally successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.