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What has Olympics taught us about crisis management in sports and the structure of the industry?

The Olympics have come to an end until Paris 2024... The Tokyo 2020 Olympics certainly left a mark in history for having gone through the uncertainty of Covid 19, as well as...many PR crises in sports. Before the Olympics closing ceremony, we want to look back to the dramatic month of PR crisis management to learn a lesson or two.

Let’s first review our golden principles to PR crisis management from the previous episodes:  be honest, be upfront, and be transparent.  It is even more important for sports as one of the most beloved industries, especially a high-profile international sporting event like Tokyo 2020, which taught us what not to do in crisis management. Tokyo 2020 exposes how crisis management is not yet in the DNA of many, even though we see the silver lining through The Game:


  • Sports is not yet an industry

In many aspects, the sports and entertainment industries go hand in hand. Nevertheless, the ability to handle crisis management draws a clear line between the two worlds. It is easy to overlook marketing and PR in sports because by nature, the industry used to focus on professional performances. It is not the case anymore with social media booming. More factors that include online presence and crisis management in sports are going to influence the career of a single player. The supporting roles off the ground should be introduced more professionally into the field. Only when supporting roles like PR and marketing professionals operate inside the system, crisis management can be put in place to react appropriately and timely on the verge of such an event. 


  • Learn from the new generation athletes

In recent years, we see many new generation athletes start to interact more directly and immediately with their fans on social media. Social media posts highlighted by the Tokyo 2020 helps us notice how Indian women’s single medalist, P. V. Sindhu, advocates for gender equality via her Instagram account,  and Thai badminton player, Ratchanok Intanon, posted a post in Chinese to cheer for her Taiwanese opponent, Tai ziying, after she was beaten by Tai in the women’s singles. They both became international sensation by showing their personalities online other than their professional selves using the right tools and right tones, most importantly, at the right time.


  • Never underestimate the power of netizens.

The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was postponed a year due to Covid 19, (un/)fortunately the media interest doesn’t dry out, as does the PR crisis. Prior to the opening ceremonies, the choices of the Tokyo 2020 organiser team alone has struck enough controversies to shock the world. One of the most discussed controversies is the  director of Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony was fired just one day before the supposedly the grand ceremony, after a netizen found out that he once made a holocaust joke in his previous work; this incident was just one of the string of scandals that spurred anger among netizens, forcing several key members in the committee board to step down. 

When it comes to The Game, while all the limelights are focused on the stadium and all the top players around the world are gathering in the host city, it is hard not to scrutinise every move related to it due to its online presence, and netizens do not fool about. It is more crucial than ever for the key stakeholders to be held accountable, because a take away from Tokyo 2020 is that nothing online can be hidden away from the eyes of netizens.


All in all, although it costs one Olympic Games to help the industry realise the importance of PR even at an individual level, we are optimistic about the growing awareness of crisis management in sports. If your brand or your startup is sports-related and you want to expand your business in Asia, the above mentioned are what to keep in mind. Not only that your brand/startup needs to build your own PR sense in mind from day one, working with players and counterparts who have the sense to minimise the risk of PR crises is also essential for a sustainable business.


P.s. In this episode, we will dive into how the sport industry can be improved regarding ways to diversify resources to other roles in the industry with general manager of AMPLIFI (Dentsu) of Taiwan, Sean Wang. We hope to raise the awareness of branding roles in the industry in the discussion that helps the athletes expand their personal potential and career after retirement. 


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