The PR controversies of the Tokyo Olympics

July 21, 2021

Written by NewsWhip

After a whirlwind year of preparations following last year’s postponement, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finally here. 

Before we all gather around our TVs to watch the opening ceremonies, we wanted to get a sense of how the Games were resonating with the media and the public by measuring the current top stories, looking at both the positives and negatives that have emerged in the last month.

With that in mind, here’s the data on levels of public and media interest since June 13th:

Graph showing the public and media interest in the Olympic Games in June and July

Engagement has stayed consistent throughout the month, with media interest peaking slightly earlier than public interest. In the last 30 days alone, there have been over 200k articles written and more than 34.5M interactions on stories pertaining to the Olympics, averaging out at just over 6k articles per day, driving more than a million engagements. 

The top stories about the Tokyo Olympics

The chart below shows the top stories about the Olympics overall:

Chart showing the most engaged articles about the Tokyo Olympics

The Daily Wire took the top spot for articles about the Olympics as a whole, with their story about GOP lawmakers calling out athlete Gwen Berry surpassing 700k engagements. The Western Journal followed closely behind, with their story on the same topic garnering 617k engagements. 

The fourth most interacted story was a petition to reinstate Sha’Carri Richardson and let her run the 100-meter sprint. Richardson was suspended from competing for one month after testing positive for marijuana in her system. Richardson’s suspension did give her the chance to be picked for the 4×100-meter relay team, but she was ultimately not chosen

Stories about athletes testing positive for Covid also charted in the top 20. This is an issue that has caused claims of a possible last-minute cancellation of the Olympics to circle. 

Olympic controversies

Some stories have generated negative attention for the Games. One such example was FINA banning a swim cap that was created specifically for Black athletes, which has sparked backlash. Additionally, in the past few days, news about Dentsu — the Games’ exclusive advertising partner — struggling to successfully reach the market in Japan has also been a source of interest. 

We looked more closely at the data for these two developments, measuring public and media reaction. We’ll look at the swim cap ban first.

Chart showing the top stories about FINA's swim cap ban, ranked by engagement

The Fédération Internationale De Natation (FINA) is the international federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee for administering competitions in water sports. They have recently come under fire for banning Soul Cap’s swim caps at this year’s competition The company’s caps are designed for thick, curly hair and are specifically used by women of color. 

The reason given for the ban was that the caps do not “follow the natural form of the head.” After the outrage that followed this announcement, FINA released a statement saying they would review the situation and that they understand “the importance of inclusivity and representation.”

CNN’s report on FINA agreeing to review their decision was the top charting article with 21.3k interactions. ESPN followed with 17.6k interactions on their original article about the ban

The New York Times also made a splash with their story on how the banning of this cap has brought Black athletes together. In a quote from two-time Olympic medalist and only the second Black female swimmer to make a U.S. Olympic team Lia Neal, “this is so much bigger than banning a type of cap.” Natural hair has been a subject of contention for a long time, so it’s unsurprising this decision by FINA was met with controversy.

Graph showing the public and media interest in Denntsu and the Olympics, showing public and media interest

When it comes to brands and communications, a recent story by the New York Times on difficulties faced by the sponsors of the Games has shown a different side of the Olympics.  

As the main advertising partner of the Tokyo Olympics, Dentsu was ready for a successful summer of victories. Unfortunately, Covid complications have ruined that. Now, with the added complication of polls showing that 80% of the Japanese public oppose Tokyo holding the Olympics, advertising campaigns and promotions that sponsors would usually pull the trigger on have been suspended or cancelled entirely. 

In an attempt to ease public backlash, Toyota, a top-sponsor of the Games, announced that they would not be running Olympic advertisements during the games.  Despite the high-profile names involved though, the public interest in the behind-the-scenes planning has been limited. 

While the public looks forward to the unity that the games bring us, brands and organizations are trying to avoid situations like that of FINA and Dentsu. As the games continue, we’ll continue to measure coverage of similar events, as well as the top coverage of the Games overall. 

If you’d like to monitor events like the Olympic Games in real time, take a tour of NewsWhip Spike.

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