Mikihiro Sato is a professor of recreation, sport and tourism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign whose research focuses on the role of sport in promoting well-being. He was a member of research teams that explored the lifelong effects of the 1964 Olympics on spectators’ physical activity and the impact of mass-participation events such as marathons on contestants’ life satisfaction. Sato spoke with News Bureau research editor Sharita Forrest.
How and why did viewing the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games influence Japanese spectators’ long-term participation in sport?
Our research suggests that individuals who experienced the 1964 Tokyo Olympics during their youth are likely to participate in sport more frequently than other generations. A potential explanation is that the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had a positive impact on youths’ attitudes toward sport, which may have motivated them to participate and continue to do so up to 50 years later as they obtained more time and resources for nonworking activities.
The 1964 Tokyo Games was the first international mega-sporting event held in Japan after World War II and played a crucial role in redeveloping Japanese society. The government introduced a new national curriculum for physical education in schools before the 1964 Olympics that promoted sport participation among Japanese youths.
There is an ongoing debate whether international mega-sporting events such as the Olympic Games promote sport participation in the host country. However, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics may have had a significant impact on sport participation in Japan because of pervasive social changes associated with the event.
With new COVID-19 variants proliferating, there were calls for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to be canceled, but Japan resisted them. What drove Japanese government officials’ determination to proceed with the events despite the apparent risks to athletes and the country's residents?
I do not think Japan or Tokyo, the host city, took the lead in resisting canceling the 2020 Tokyo Games. Various stakeholders are involved with the Olympics, and the decision to cancel the games is very complicated. The most important stakeholder is the International Olympic Committee, which owns the rights to the Olympics.
According to the contract between the IOC and Tokyo, only the IOC has the option to cancel the Olympics. Tokyo was unable to cancel the Olympics unless the IOC and other key stakeholders such as the media and sponsors agreed.
Because of a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo until Aug. 22, and the Olympics are being held without spectators at all venues in Tokyo and three adjacent prefectures.
Although many Japanese are enjoying watching the Olympics on TV, the pandemic still affects their daily lives, which causes emotional conflict in Japan about hosting the event.
One of your prior studies found that sports fans who view events in person have greater life satisfaction. What’s the correlation? And are these effects diminished when fans view the sporting events remotely instead?
Our prior research suggests that the more live spectating sport events that people attend, the more likely they are to feel satisfied with their life. A plausible reason is that live spectating produces enjoyable leisure experiences that shape people’s overall evaluation of life.
Our recent research also suggests that attending live sporting events could increase social interactions with fellow fans, which also contributes to well-being.
Obviously, many consumers can connect with a sporting event through TV or stream it online. However, they may be less likely to experience social interactions with other fans than they might during live spectating. This may lessen the effect of sport spectating on their life satisfaction.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led many sport organizations to postpone or cancel their events and programs. As global society continues to recover from the pandemic, the role of live spectating in promoting life satisfaction may become a more relevant topic for us.
Marathons, walking and other mass-participation sporting events attract thousands of people every year. What impact do these events have on participants beyond the obvious benefits of physical activity?
These events can serve as environmental correlates of participants’ life satisfaction through increased behavioral engagement in the activities such as running and the subsequent effect on psychological connection.
We found in our research that participating in a mass distance run can increase individuals’ weekly running levels, and this is likely to enhance their life satisfaction if their increased running activity provides opportunities for enjoyment and finding greater meaning in running.
Public health officials consider mass-participation sporting events an important tool for promoting population-based physical activity and well-being. An event that focuses on more than the behavioral measures of the activity – particularly the pleasant and symbolic aspects of it – may play an important role in sustaining community health and well-being.