12 Feb /19

Olympics Made in Japan: Translation is the Unsung Hero

Olympics Made in Japan: Translation is the Unsung Hero
Olympics Made in Japan: Translation is the Unsung Hero – EVS Translations

No city or country ever decided to host the Olympics on a whim. For an event where even the cost of the planning and bidding phase can run into billions of dollars – not to mention the cost of actual hosting – it’s definitely not a decision that’s taken lightly.

Still, when looking at the planning and administration of games themselves, there’s a tendency to focus on the obvious, things like site zoning/planning, constructing/adapting the facilities themselves, increasing transportation/accommodation/communication capacity, and security. To put it another way, though it is truly the lubricant that makes all of these aforementioned aspects function successfully and cohesively, translation is the unsung hero.

Think about it: a century ago, the Antwerp Olympics hosted 29 nations, 2,626 athletes, and 156 events, but, in less than 18 months, Tokyo will host an estimated 206 nations, over 11,000 athletes, and 339 events.

Not only have the number of events and participation in the games themselves grown, but so have the communication and translation needs. Strictly speaking of sport, increasingly detailed rules, doping regulations, contractual agreements, and medical examination reports need to be understood and agreed to by all parties, from the individual athletes to judges and governing bodies – “I didn’t understand” is no longer a valid reason. Being one of the two largest and most widely-followed global sporting events, the importance of communication and administration are vital: from PR, marketing, licensing, and ticket sales on the consumer end to tax documents, legal affairs, and financial statements on the business end, disseminating the correct information in the best way to the right parties is key. Finally, on the base level, there’s dealing with the massive influx of people who don’t speak Japanese: to deal with the 5% increase in tourism – it may not sound like much until you consider that the increase mostly occurred in a month-long span of time – Rio 2016/Brazil famously arranged for 8,000 professional translators in 30 different languages, 10,000 free online English courses for local taxi drivers, and 1 million Brazilian volunteers to be trained in either French, English, or Spanish.

Though many were dismayed at the IOC’s announcement in December that eSports would not be considered for Olympic involvement due to some disagreements, the International Olympic Committee’s decision to continue engagement with the community, which generated revenue in excess of USD 900 million and has boasted a viewership of 165 million in 2018, is seen as a progressive development, especially after the inclusion of eSports in the 2019 Southeast Asia Games and the 2022 Asian Games. As with the addition of any new venue/events, this would create an additional multifaceted need for translation services.

To help meet the linguistic needs of such a massive event, Japan is also attempting to utilize the assistance of machine translation. Currently, public and private companies are working in an attempt to create and develop a system capable and robust enough to handle such a massive multilingual demand while also dealing with the issue of different sentence structure (Japanese verbs appear only at the end of sentences), which can cause up to a 5 second delay in translation.

Overall, if anything mirrors the Olympic hendiatris, “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, it is the Olympics itself. With more spending, more events, and an attempt to appeal to more markets, such as eSports (read our article: eSports as a Fast-Growing Industry), the need for fast, effective, and easily understood communication will continue to grow with it; moreover, going hand in hand will be a great range of commercial opportunities for diverse businesses, and EVS Translations is ready to support them every step of the way.