As a Worldwide Partner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, The Coca‑Cola Company has organized an in-house "Tokyo 2020 Team" to support the event. How did the Tokyo 2020 team members maintain their motivation and overcome difficulties despite many unforeseen events, including a one-year postponement due to a new coronavirus and a last-minute decision to hold the Games without spectators? In this roundtable discussion, we asked four employees to look back on this extraordinary Olympics and Paralympics.
（Left）Kotone Kobayashi／Coca‑Cola Japan Company（CCJC）. In charge of the project of "placard bearers" who led the athletes at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, holding placards with the names of the participating countries and regions.
（Mid-left）Taichi Kumada／Coca‑Cola Bottlers Japan（CCBJI）. Initially, assigned to the commercial planning team, where he oversaw planning for vending machines. He was then transferred to the "venue operation" team, which was in charge of arranging beverages for each venue and was responsible for hiring, training, and supporting staffs during the Games.
（Mid-right）Azusa Iribe／Coca‑Cola Bottlers Japan（CCBJI）. Was seconded to CCJC, where she was in charge of "venue operations," arranging for the supply of Coca‑Cola products to the venues. She oversaw 14 venues in "Bay Zone" in the Tokyo bay area During the Games and managed the operations team for each venue which consisted of members from bottlers throughout Japan.
（Right）Shimon Miyamoto／Coca‑Cola Japan Company（CCJC）. As a bilingual person who is fluent in English, he was in charge of negotiating with the IOC/IPC for approval to use all Olympic and Paralympic related events, materials, and commercial products.
※All affiliations are as of the time of the interview (October 2021).
――You have been participating in the "Tokyo 2020 Team" since before the Corona outbreak and have been preparing for the Games. However, postponement for a year was decided on March 30, 2020. It became unclear whether the event would actually take place. Please tell us about your honest feelings at that time.
Azusa To be honest, it was hard to maintain my motivation at times. As the situation of the coronavirus outbreak worsened, we prepared several scenarios with assumption number of spectators from spring of 2021 and drafted multiple plans to go with it. The change of spectator numbers affects the prepared operational processes and the estimated resources. With the uncertainty of whether the Games would be held in the first place, there were times when we wondered if the mind-numbing additional work would really be meaningless.
Taichi The Torch Relay that I was originally involved in was also fully affected by the postponement. Relay was postponed just before it was to be held, and we had to change the posters all over the country. We had to ask our sales staffs nationwide to remove all the posters that said, "Let's gather and cheer together" This coordination alone was enormous. Also, all Olympic and Paralympic related promotional materials, including posters, must be approved by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and IPC (International Paralympic Committee). So, every time we make a change, we had to give Shimon a hard time...
Shimon No problem. (laughs)
Kotone I didn't lose any motivation because of the postponement. The "Placard Bearer" program was the first to be held at this year's Games, and many adjustments had to be made at the last minute. By postponing the program for a year, we were able to have time to rethink the significance of the program. Originally, the program was planned to be held only at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, but through negotiating with IPC during the time we had, we were able to implement the Placard Bearer program at the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony as well.
Taichi As Kotone said, the entire team's mindset changed to "Now that the event has been postponed, let's make it even better"
Shimon I think everyone was quick to shift to positive mindset.
Kotone However, even though we wanted to succeed, we also had to be mindful of the public sentiment, so it was difficult to find the right balance between the two.
――Then, on July 8, 2021, at the very last minute, the decision was made to hold the event without spectators.
Azusa Our work didn't lessen because of the decision of holding no spectators. We deliver our beverages to all the people in the venues (customers), including athletes, referees, media and volunteers. Since the number of people working in the venue had also changed due to the decision, the Organizing Committee and our Company continued to make adjustments until just before the opening ceremony. Especially regarding quantity and types of products we'd deliver to which customers. There was a very tense atmosphere in the team when we had to incorporate this into the operation plan. Until spring, we were able to work together harmoniously, but under those circumstances, we had no time to spare, and I too felt like screaming (laughs).
Taichi The training for the staffs of the venue operations team was originally supposed to start with a kickoff meeting with about 1,200 people at a large venue in Tokyo. We had planned this on the premise that we would get everyone together to raise their spirits for the event, but we couldn't do all that, so we switched to online training.
Azusa It was quite difficult for me to even visit each venue to check the operations on site.
Taichi So during the Games Time, I was stationed at the hotel where the venue operations members were staying and worked as their support staff. My role was to "arrange everything related to food, clothing, and shelter," and with about 300 staff members coming and going at any given time, I had to take thorough measures to prevent infections and deal with all kinds of problems, including minor concerns such as "the staff uniforms size don't fit.
――You were working as a kind of consultant for the staff.
Taichi I'm sure everyone was busy in their respective positions, but I was stationed at the hotel from middle of June until the end of the Paralympics in early September, and my days were so full and busy that I can't even remember them (laughs).
――Shimon, you are in charge of applications to the IOC/IPC. What kind of tasks did you do during the Games Time?
Shimon I was still receiving applications during the Games Time, so I had to check, approve, and send off to respective organizations. I was also a part of the "Team Coca‑Cola PIN ZONE" (an event space for original pin badges) held at MIYASHITA PARK in Shibuya, so I also supported them. But basically, I worked in the office.
Kotone We used to cheer by watching TV as we worked in the office.
――Any memorable moment for each position you were in?
Kotone For the "placard bearers," it's the moment when the opening ceremony was successfully completed. All the bearers gathered in Tokyo one week before the Olympics and Paralympics to start the program, and that's when we all met each other for the first time. At that time, I was relieved that we had made it this far. Then, after the opening ceremony, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.
Members of Placard Bearers with their uniforms
――Finally, after overcoming so many challenges.
Kotone Yes, I had some concerns before the program commenced. But all the participants were very positive that I was encouraged. That's why I was so excited when the event was over that I couldn't even speak properly when we had our own closing ceremony in the waiting room (laughs).
Azusa I remember the dissolution ceremony of the operations team the most, with whom I shared a lot of challenges and laughs during the Games Time. To take precaution to infection, there were restrictions on teams from different venues gathering, but we held daily online meetings with managers from all the venues to share knowledge and manage staffs. I think a sense of unity was fostered from these daily meetings. On the last day of the operation, we also had our own closing ceremony just among the managers. I will never forget the words of encouragement I received from my colleagues who worked alongside me throughout it all.
Snapshot of venue operation team (Azusa on front row right)
Taichi When you work together to achieve a single goal, you become like a family, don't you think? As I was at the hotel and supporting the staffs, I started to give advice to various people and I felt as if I had become a nanny (laughs). When the Paralympics ended and I checked out of the hotel where I had spent almost two months, I felt as if there was a gaping hole in my heart because I could no longer work with those people.
Shimon In my case, it was not a goal-oriented job, but even so, there were urgent requests for applications. Just before the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, it was decided that Coca‑Cola Japan would air a 60-second commercial for that day only. I applied for the commercial in a hurry, got it approved, and when I saw the commercial airing on the day, I was deeply moved, thinking, "Oh, it's over now.
――What did you gain from being on the Tokyo 2020 Team?
Kotone I am now more aware of diversity than ever before. Since the theme of the program was "Diversity and Inclusion," I thought I had been aware of it myself. However, I was able to learn a lot by interacting with the Placard Bearers and having the opportunity to ponder about this theme.
Shimon I also want to learn more about diversity. For example, when submitting a press release application, there were many times when expressions that we thought were OK did not pass the IPC's check. I realized that the way of thinking about diversity is quite different between Japan and other countries, and I feel that it has given me an opportunity to look at things that I was not aware of before.
Azusa With regard to diversity, I realized something in the Venue Operation Team.As one of the IPC committee members put it, "Let's aim for fruit punch, not mixed juice.
――The various personalities are not blended into one, but coexist in a different way.
Azusa The venue operation team was made up of members from various backgrounds and nationalities: the CCJC members were strong in planning, while the members from CCBJI, like myself, were strong in knowledge of products and equipment. As for nationality, we had a diverse range of nationalities, including Dutch and Korean. Because of the differences, we needed to communicate well to understand each other, and that is why we had many discussions. One more thing. I also felt the importance of motivation firsthand. I've written a lot about why I joined the Tokyo 2020 team, including career advancement, but my real feeling was that I really wanted to be involved (laughs).
――you have always been involved in various sports such as swimming and triathlon.
Azusa Yes. Because of that, I had a yearning to take part in the world's biggest games, the Olympic and Paralympic Games. That's why I really wanted to participate. I learned firsthand that motivation is what makes or breaks your performance. I think this learning about diversity and motivation has given me a great hint for my future work.
Taichi I also learned a lot about how to keep people motivated. It was a lesson I learned from being involved with so many people, and I feel that it will be my great asset.
Shimon The Tokyo 2020 team itself was actually quite a diverse organization, wasn't it?
――Not only Coca‑Cola Japan employees, but Taichi and Azusa are from Coca‑Cola Bottlers Japan, and some of them joined the company especially for the Olympic and Paralympic work.
Taichi We ended up with a team of about 60 people, all with different backgrounds and ages. I think it was a wonderful team that worked together as one to achieve a single goal.
――Are you happy to be part of the Tokyo 2020 team?
Azusa Of course! It was my dreams.
Kotone I didn't have that much of a admiration for the Games, but I realized its significance later. But now I'm really glad that I participated. After the program was over, I received some calls from the bearers. They told me that the program made them want to learn more about LGBTQ, and that they now have the opportunity to talk about it at school and at home. A visually impaired Paralympic Games opening ceremony bearer said, "I hated the fact that I was losing my sight, but I was encouraged by the sight of the athletes making a grand entrance. I am very happy to have been able to work in such a way that I could make a positive difference in someone's life, and I am convinced that the experiences of the past two years will be something I will definitely look back on when I'm older.
Taichi I have two children, and when they saw the Olympic and Paralympic logos on TV, they said, "That's Daddy's job". They are still small, so I'm not sure how much they understand, but I'm proud to have had a job where they could say that. And the experience of working hard together towards a single end is...quite addictive.
――Are the Olympic and Paralympic Games attractive to the people who support them?
Taichi I think so. I actually participated in the PyeongChang Olympics in the winter of 2018, and the staffs at that time were mainly part-time workers. I was able to bring together a group of staff who had almost no knowledge of Coca‑Cola products, and at the end of the day, we were all united in our aspirations. The pleasure of that was irresistible. Moreover, athletes from all over the world were smiling right in front of my eyes with the Coca‑Cola products we provided. I couldn't forget that experience, and that's why I joined the Tokyo 2020 Games. I'm feeling a bit burned out at the moment, but I'd like to get involved again in some way.
Shimon It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me because it was my country's event and it was challenging. Not only as an individual experience, but also as a treasure for me was meeting my teammates. I am very happy to have been a part of this team, and I've met so many people who I want to continue be a part of for a long time to come.