Olympics: Fans Confused Why 2021 Games are Called ‘Tokyo 2020’

by Jonathan Howard
(Photo by Swen Pförtner/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are underway…in 2021. This little distinction has some fans asking exactly why the Games still have their 2020 date in the name even while being postponed a year later. There are a few reasons as to why the Tokyo Olympics are 2020 and not 2021. However, if you think it is due to tradition or anything like that, think again.

If one were to travel through Japan, let alone Tokyo right now, they would notice that everything is plastered with “2020”. The Olympics, as we all know take place every four years alternating every two years with the Winter Olympics. So perhaps when officials made their decision last March to keep 2020 attached to the Olympics and Paralympics it was to maintain some kind of integrity of the four-year cycle and all that. Sadly, that is not the case.

While it would have been easy to just change the name and branding to 2021, the cost would have been too great. The amount of merchandise, signage and other media already made or planned was too great. The decision ultimately came down to branding and marketing. So much money had already been invested in the Olympics “2020” branding, going back was not an option. In a way, one could look at it as a way of taking back something from the year we all lost. One thing is for certain, this will make for a great trivia question some time in the future.

Why Olympics 2020 and Not 2021

While organizers debated postponing the Olympics last March, the merchandise was already prepared to be sold. There were shirts, plushies, stuffed animals, banners, flags, and more all printed with the year 2020. To go back would not only cost millions of dollars, but it could potentially start a Mandella Effect on society to have both. Imagine the various athletes wearing 2020 shirts next to 2021 banners or a similar display.

A former marketing exec, Michael Lynch told Yahoo! Sports about the details that went into the decision. Telling Yahoo!, “The primary asset the IOC and Tokyo Organizing Committee sells is its intellectual property and…marks, logos, designations, symbols, etc.” Michael Lynch explained, “All that Olympic IP is branded 2020 including IOC creative, sponsor creative, advertising…you name it.”

No need to worry though. When you see the 2020 logo and branding just know that it is still the year 2021. We have indeed not traveled to the past.

The waves that a brand change would have made would be too great not only to the IOC but others. There are so many marketing companies, television ads, sponsors, and more that have content related to the Olympics. A change, even a year ago, would have made for quite the challenge.

However, even with the branding staying the same, the Olympics are going to miss out on some revenue. Without fans being able to attend Olympic events, the opportunity to sell merch is very limited. The shirts, jackets, chopsticks, and more could all sit on shelves in Tokyo and around the world. There will be no big tourist boom and hotels will stay relatively empty during the games.

Say what you will about the games, but this is all going to be a great trivia question in the coming years, don’t forget.