The Coca‑Cola Company was the worldwide partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2021. Coca‑Cola has supported the Games despite many difficulties, including the postponement of the Games for one year due to the new coronavirus and the holding of the Games without spectators. As a long-time supporter of the Games, what are Coca‑Cola's thoughts on this year's event? We asked James Williams, General Manager of the Tokyo 2020 team, to reflect on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
――Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games was held under unprecedented circumstances. Was the Tokyo 2020 team forced to change its approach to the Games?
James Certainly, this was a Games that no one, including myself, had ever anticipated. In that sense, there were many changes made in the preparations for the event.
First, we had to accept uncertainty. I think that was exceptionally different from past Games. We didn't know what would happen. Many members of the team felt that kind of anxiety.
So I told the team, "In these uncertain situations, there are things that are beyond our control, and it's natural to feel anxious about them. I thought it was important to share this premise with the team.
We had been preparing for a long time, and suddenly it was postponed, so the mental impact alone was huge. Working remotely was also a new experience for all of us. Therefore, it was important for me to stay in touch with my team members and build a relationship of trust through open discussions. I believe there is no such thing as over communicating with a focus on "people" in these situations.
――What specific words did you use to inspire the team?
James I took up this position just after the decision was made to postpone. At that time, the team was not in good place.
So, we started by resetting the situation surrounding the team. I told all the members to ask themselves "WHY". In other words, what is the purpose of this team, why did each member decide to join the team, and what role could they play on the team now? We decided to start by asking ourselves these questions and started rebuilding belief in themselves, in the team, and the project by finding our purposes or our ‘WHY’s’
――After the postponement, how did you define the role of the team in the wake of Corona, and how do you reflect on the achievement?
James We created five legacies at the early stage of the project. The first is to expand the activation to include five legacy brands (Coca‑Cola, Ayataka, Georgia, Ilohas, and Aquarius) and to promote awareness that Coca‑Cola is a company with a diverse product portfolio that can meet the different needs and occasions for all consumers. This has actually been a great success in terms of increasing actual purchase.
For the second legacy the postponement allowed us to combine both the Commercial and Execution legacies to make them one. In the past Games, they were treated separately, but we integrated them together to create more synergy and effectiveness. I think this has been the most effective approaches to activation for this Olympic and Paralympic Games, and it has become a legacy that will have a long-term impact on the business after 2021 through all the new equipment we managed to install across different channels.
The third legacy was about corporate social reputation and sustainability. In this Games, we not only collected PET bottles from various venues, but also reused them for the uniforms of the torchbearers and Coca‑Cola employees. Utilizing recycled PET for the torchbearer uniforms was the first time in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and will be a legacy I hope will continue to the next games.
The fourth legacy was new after postponement and was focused using digital technology as a driver. For example, the Coke ON app was used in a promotion to win digital pin badges. The promotion was so successful that 70,000 digital pin badges were being traded online every day for the games.
The fifth and final legacy was about our "people". For employees across the country to take pride in the company, we created various touchpoints with the Games. We implemented a variety of measures, including the participation of employees in the torch relay to be roadies for the day.
――You mentioned the torch relay, but weren't there many challenges in conducting it during the Corona outbreak?
James As you pointed out, this was an unprecedented challenge. We consider it as our mission to support the torch relay as an important part of our support for the Olympic Games. Hence it was important for us to be present in each city to be there for the torchbearers and support them at all times.
In the execution of the relay itself, we followed the playbook* to ensure the safety and security of all participants, including the general public.
※Playbook: A collection of rules and regulations developed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games for all athletes and officials participating in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
――Placard Bearers for the Opening Ceremony were chosen from the public for the first time. What gave you the idea to conduct this initiative?
James The main objective for the open call for placard bearers* was to create ambassadors for Team Coca‑Cola to convey a message through its support of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, that message was all about educating and respecting diversity and inclusion.
※Placard bearer: A person who holds up a placard with the name of a country or region and leads the way as the athletes enter the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In fact, in the selection of placard bearers, we focused on diversity and inclusion as the only criteria. Those who embody diversity and those who have had the experience of reaching out and helping someone else had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of leading the athletes out at the opening ceremony. The participants will be talking about this experience for years to come in their respective communities and sharing positive messages about diversity and inclusion. It also happened a lot that their stories were picked up by the media and spread to lots of people across Japan.
This has a positive impact on society. In other words, it is one of the ways we can change the world and make a positive impact and achieve greater inclusion.
It was also a privilege for Coca‑Cola System employees to be involved in the placard bearer initiative. During the Paralympic Games, we also participated in the #WeThe15 campaign, which aims to end discrimination against people with disabilities, who make up 15% of the world's population. I believe that we had the opportunity to deepen our understanding of and empathy for people with disabilities. I hope that the placard bearers will also be passed on as an important legacy in future games.
――You have supported the Olympic and Paralympic Games in many different countries. Did you find any differences between Japan and other countries?
James I have traveled from country to country for a few Olympic and Paralympic Games now, and it has always been a wonderful experience to live in and learn from different cultures and people. This time, however, the Games were held under very special circumstances, being postponed due to the Corona outbreak, and there were certainly many challenges.
I believe that Japan is the only country that could have hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games this year. No one but Japan could have managed the Games despite Corona outbreak so well. When I talk to people overseas, many of them praise Japan for doing such a wonderful job.
Thanks to Japan's hosting of the Games, a total of about 15,000 athletes were able to participate in the Games. The impact this has had on the world is immeasurable. I even think that the people of Japan should celebrate by patting each other on the back and praise each other for a great job.
――Are there any stories in Japan that have left a personal impression on you?
James There are so many that it's hard to narrow it down to just one or two…
There are also several important moments I spent with my team members. We had been communicating mainly online for a long time. It was only just before the games that we all had a chance to get together.
Of course, we had to maintain a social distance, but that's where we handed out uniforms and backpacks for the team and took a group photo at the end. We were able to overcome a lot of challenges and make the event happen. Everyone was excited thinking that if everyone worked together as a team, we could do something like this. I was very impressed by the teams attitude.
Then there was a moment when I personally felt the specialness of Japan. When I left the stadium after the closing ceremony, many people with posters that read "ARIGATO" were waiting outside. Of course, the message was intended for the athletes and not for me (laughs), but I still couldn't help but tear up when I saw that scene.
――Finally, looking back on Tokyo 2020 Games, what message do you think Team Coca‑Cola was able to convey?
James I think it is the importance of diversity and inclusion. No matter what difficulties we face, we can overcome them if we work together. The Olympic and Paralympic Games were not accomplished by the power of one person or one team, but by the combined efforts of everyone involved. It is this fact that shows the importance of diversity and inclusion. I think the most significant value of the project is that we were able to convey such a message.