Should we expect a bigger home advantage in the Tokyo Olympics?

63 days to go until the opening ceremony of the most unusual Olympic Games in History. While Worldwide and in Japan there is a lot of discussion about the possibility that this edition may not go ahead after the postponement of last year, let’s discuss home advantage at the Olympics.

The COVID situation is still ‘live’ and it will be a challenge for athletes and support staff to attend with many restrictions and most of all with uncertainty over the ability for the public to access the venues. What we know is that international spectators will not be allowed to attend the games and travel to Japan which creates a unique scenario for such a global sporting event. In fact, we could have a scenario where only domestic spectators can be allowed to attend (full or limited numbers) or the current scenario in many countries at the moment where no spectators are allowed in the venues.

Either scenario will have for sure implications for the performance of athletes and may affect in particular local athletes (positively or negatively is the real question).

Historically, home nations have benefitted from the Olympics at home by winning more medals than the previous editions. In the last twenty years in particular, the trend has been quite clear with Greece and Brazil showing a minimal ‘gain’ from hosting the games and Australia, Great Britain and China making huge improvements (with GB being the only nation to surpass home games success in Rio 2016).

Difference in Medals won from previous OG in host nations.

Japan as a host nation has great ambitions. The performance of Japanese athletes in the last 3 editions of the Olympic Games has shown an increase in the number of medals possibly thanks to increased investment in Olympic Sports and in infrastructure which could reach its peak at the ‘Home’ Olympics. My Japanese colleagues tell me the objective is to finish in the top 3.

Current virtual medal tables based on performances in World Championships/World Cups/Continental championships are starting to predict how the final medal table might look like and many indicate that Japan might be well on track to be in the top 4 in this edition with the fight between 1st and 2nd place between USA and China and with Team GB not looking particularly promising.

Virtual Medal Table 1-10
Virtual Medal Table by Gracenote

Another nation looking on the up is the Netherlands which has been the most improved nation in medals won in the quadrennium 2016-2020.

Biggest Medal Improvements-041421
Biggest Medal Improvements – form Gracenote

For sure, this edition of the Olympics will be unusual and incredibly challenging to predict due to the many uncertainties and challenges athletes and coaches face. Most of all, we don’t know what crowds (if any) they are going to have in the venues and this might change completely many dynamics.

I was fortunate enough to be in the Beijing, Vancouver and London venues and I can tell you that the crowds had a massive influence on many performances (Usain Bolt sprinting the World Record in Beijing, Canada beating the US in the Ice Hockey Final in Vancouver, and super saturday in London 2012). Will the Japanese athletes benefit more or less from home advantage? Will we be able to witness incredible performances?

Despite the pandemic, there have been some exceptional performances in 2020, are we going to witness something really special this time? Who are going to be the heroes and the villains?