What can Tokyo 2020 learn from the 2019 Rugby World Cup?

2020 Tokyo Olympics, Haka dance, 2019 Rugby World Cup, All Blacks, New Zealand,
While there are many differences -- far fewer countries participated in the Rugby World Cup but it was spread out over 12 host cities -- there are some lessons Tokyo 2020 can learn from the tournament. Photo: @rugbyworldcup/Twitter

In many ways, the Rugby World Cup was a mini dress rehearsal for Japan, as it gears up to host an even bigger sporting event next year: the Tokyo Olympics.

While there are many differences — far fewer countries participated in the Rugby World Cup but it was spread out over 12 host cities — there are some lessons Tokyo 2020 can learn from the tournament.

Contingency planning may not be enough

Rugby World Cup organisers spent hundreds of hours gaming out every possible scenario for what would happen if a typhoon, earthquake or volcano struck a venue in Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active countries that is also battered by hurricanes each year.

In the end, even the worst-case scenario planning was insufficient as Hagibis, one of the largest and most powerful typhoons in recent years, reared up from the Pacific and took direct aim at Tokyo.

Changing venues was impossible as the storm covered practically the entire Japanese archipelago and organisers were forced to cancel three fixtures as Hagibis brought historic rains and ferocious winds that killed more than 80 people.

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The Olympics are not being held during peak typhoon season (although the Paralympics are) but Tokyo is never safe from earthquakes and typhoons can strike most of the year round.

Tokyo 2020 has its own weather-related controversy to deal with as doctors have warned against top-level competition at the height of the Japanese summer when the heat and humidity are unbearable.

Japanese fans rock

Tokyo 2020 already has no concerns about filling the stadiums — tickets could have been sold several times over — and the Japanese fans melted many hearts at the Rugby World Cup.

While they may not have been familiar with all the finer points of rugby, they cheered enthusiastically and fairly for all the teams, creating a sensational atmosphere remarked upon by all competing nations.

A unique feature of the Rugby World Cup that could extend to Olympics events not familiar to Japan is how fans “adopted” another team.

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Images of Japanese supporters gamely singing other national anthems — including young children selected as mascots — or trying the New Zealand haka war dance wowed the world and showed the “omotenashi” (Japanese welcome) Tokyo 2020 hopes to emulate.

Players responded, starting a trend of bowing deeply to the crowd as per Japanese tradition after every game.

Foreign fans (mostly) rock

Despite scare stories about rugby fans drinking Tokyo dry and flashing their tattoos in Japanese baths (strictly forbidden), the vast majority of foreign fans were impeccably behaved at the Rugby World Cup and added to the festival atmosphere.

However, some videos of drunken fans cavorting on public transport went viral on Japanese social media, leading some to warn of “improper” behaviour when the Olympics come around.

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While rugby fans are well-known for a healthy thirst, Olympic organisers may also find a clash of cultures between foreigners and the ultra-reserved Japanese when it comes to public drunkenness.

And it’s not just the fans. Some Uruguay players appeared to have let the side down by allegedly trashing a nightclub after losing their final match, sparking legal action from the owner to reclaim thousands of dollars in damage.

Get the kit in

If the Rugby World Cup is anything to go by, Olympic organisers should make sure they are fully stocked on memorabilia and replica clothing.

Spurred by the brilliance of the home team, sales of the Brave Blossoms replica shirts exploded, with long queues forming outside specialist clothing shops several hours before they opened.

Stocks quickly ran dry, leaving many disappointed. And it was not just Japan team shirts that proved popular but Japanese fans lapped up shirts from all the top teams — the famous All Black jersey a particular favourite.

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