How has coronavirus impacted interest in the Olympics and Paralympics?

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
July 21, 2021, 9:37 AM UTC

The public are inclined to say that the Tokyo games won’t be as good as the London and Rio games

A year later than planned – and without any spectators – the Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020 will kick off on 23 July, while the Paralympics start a month later. YouGov data shows that the pandemic has likely impacted interest in the events. While our survey was conducted recorded before the announcement that no audiences will be allowed, Britons were already showing less interest in this year’s games compared to the two prior.

Only around one in three people (36%) say they’re interested in the Tokyo Olympics. In contrast, some 46% of the public had an interest in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games, and half (51%) were keen on the London Olympics in 2012. It’s to be expected that Britons are more invested in games happening on home soil, so the Rio games likely represent a more ‘normal’ level of interest when not affected by the pandemic.  

The same trend appears with the Paralympics: only one in four people (27%) are interested in watching it, down from 37-38% for the two previous games.

Will the Tokyo Olympics be better or worse than previous games?

One in three Britons (33%) say the Tokyo Olympics will be worse than the 2012 London games, while only 7% expect it to be better. A quarter (25%) say there won’t be much difference.

With there generally being a high level of excitement around events happening at home, the public unsurprisingly feel less strongly about how this year’s competition will compare with the 2016 games in Rio. But they’re still more likely to say they will be worse (21%) than better (11%). One in four expect them to be similar (26%).

One in three Olympics-interested Britons expect Britain to make the top five

Britons’ expectations for this year’s Olympic games are modest – especially considering Britain’s track record. Only one in three people interested in this year’s Olympics (35%) expect British athletes to bag enough medals to make the top five. This includes very few who believe the first, second and third rankings are within reach at respectively 2%, 2% and 9%. This is despite the fact that Britain came second in Rio in 2016 and third in London in 2012.

Half of Britons interested in the Rio games (52%) expected Britain to make the top five in 2016, although only 5% of people saw the second place coming. Similarly, half of those who had an interest in the London Olympics (53%) were eyeing up the top five, including some 14% who correctly expected Britain to come third.

See the full results for 2021, 2016 and 2012