Ensuring success at Tokyo 2020

Posted by in Board Level, Elite Performance, Management, Stewart King

Stewart King, Senior Consultant for High Performance at SRi, spoke with close to 40 national governing body CEOs and Performance Directors from all over the world during the Olympics in Rio de Janiero. King was keen to establish how they will review Rio 2016, what the biggest challenges are ahead of Tokyo 2020, and what they will now do to ensure success in Japan.

King found that a number of common themes arose:

1. Every Olympics is different and performance structures that were successful in Rio won’t necessarily work in Tokyo.

  • A rapid review of all areas of a federation – from leadership and management through to coaching and the athletes themselves – must take place, with one eye trained on other federations and sports.
  • NGBs need to anticipate their future funding allocations and plan accordingly to ensure there isn’t an exodus of key people in the event of a significant drop in support.
  • Advances in science and technology to improve athlete training and performance will likely move on markedly in the next four years.
  • Key quote from an Australian NGB CEO: “To be frank, we didn’t have a great Games and I’m certain that despite putting up a fight, we’re going to lose funding for Tokyo. I now need to quickly put together a new team that can deliver more with less.”

2. Administrators need to move forward with Rio 2016 reviews at pace or risk losing time to rival countries that will be felt at the finish line in Tokyo.

  • Medals are won and lost by thousandths of a second. With everyone in sport looking for an incremental increase in performance, lengthy post-Games review processes inadvertently give rivals a head start.
  • SRi internal data reveals that it can take close to 100 days to fill a senior vacancy in elite sport.
  • Key quote from a GB Performance Director: “The Olympic cycle is 48 months. If we spend four months reviewing our performance in Rio, that’s 10 per cent of our time for Tokyo lost that we simply can’t afford.”

3. Standing still is the same as moving backwards and can have disastrous consequences.

  • It’s clear that those who didn’t perform well in Rio will be making significant changes to their performance structures and key staff in the coming months, but maintaining success is an equally daunting prospect.
  • Senior administrators are keenly aware that they will need to make changes to key staff, even within performance structures that did well in Rio.
  • Key quote from a European Performance Director: “My biggest challenge now is to ignore the celebrations and plot a path to the podium in Tokyo. We had a brilliant Games in Rio but resting on our laurels, even for a moment, will be the death of us.”

4. Cross country and cross sport code movement of high performance staff will continue to grow in prominence.

  • To truly break the mould and make a step change in performance on the pitch or in the pool, many CEOs and PDs acknowledge they need fresh ideas and ways of thinking. Simply copying a rival country’s Rio programme is unlikely to deliver a winning performance in Tokyo.
  • A number of PDs have already proven that they can move from sport to sport and deliver success. Wrapping the individual with the correct technical infrastructure allows for this transition to run smoothly.
  • To achieve credibility with stakeholders in his/her new sport or country, prior medal success in previous roles helps.
  • Key quote from a North American NGB CEO: “I know our domestic talent pool and there is no one I feel that can drive the innovation and change we are looking for. To bring true innovation we have to go outside our sport or at least go to another country for talent.”


Stewart King is a Senior Consultant for High Performance at SRi. King is responsible for the execution of appointments within the high performance practice across all global territories. He partners with national governing bodies, clubs and international federations in the appointment of CEOs, Performance Directors, Chief Technical Officers, medical and sports science professionals.

To have a more in-depth and confidential discussion about the trends and challenges facing NGBS over the next four years, please contact Stewart at sking@sriexecutive.com.