Interview: What can Tokyo learn from D&I initiatives in Rio 2016?
“Diversity really is everything.”
Interviewee: Alberto Pinto
Diversity and Inclusion Specialist at Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games 2016
Interviewer: Takeshi Nozawa
Tokyo will celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020. This, the biggest international event, is expected to bring people the excitement of sports, and to attract millions of visitors from around the world to Japan.
We boast that visitors will be taken care of when we exert our spirit of hospitality, omotenashi. But are we really ready?
Japan ― sometimes called (erroneously) an ethnically homogeneous nation ― lacks experience with diversity due to geographical, historical and cultural reasons. This is why I interviewed Alberto Pinto, who joined the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games as a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) specialist, to learn about their efforts in a really diverse country, Brazil.
Q1. Why is D&I important?
If you ever come to see Brazil, you can understand the reason. Indigenous people, Portuguese, other Europeans, Africans, Asians… so many different people make up our country throughout our history. In addition, other diversity aspects such as gender, disability and sexual orientation are gaining more and more attention in recent years.
We have a bitter experience. The opening ceremony of FIFA World Cup in 2014 held in Rio was criticized due to the lack of care to diversity. Seeing Capoeira, a traditional Brazilian martial art and dance, performed during the show, Afro-Brazilian people were angry that the dancers were mostly white. The origin of this national sport is rooted in a tragic history of slavery.
Because our society is diverse, we should be more careful to respect diversity.
Q2. How did Rio approach and increase diversity?
The key was the four discussion groups: people with impairments, gender, black and mixed-race, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender. We invited employees, volunteers and contractors to join and engage as members. Groups were organized several years before the Games, and gathered every month to discuss what the organizers should take care of and introduce as actions.
Another focus was engagement with top management. It is necessary to involve them to establish a culture of diversity within the organization.
Q3. What kind of actions were taken before, during and after the Games?
Various measures were developed. Facilities were designed to be barrier-free so that athletes and visitors with disabilities could move smoothly. Costumes for staff and volunteers were made with respect and care in design and colour. Food was provided with religion and dietary choices in mind.
Internally, the Organizing Committee increased its own diversity by hiring diverse people. Suppliers were also asked to support the inclusion of minority groups. Small companies managed by minorities were able to join the capacity-building program.
Our main focus was raising awareness among top management, staff and volunteers. We provided D&I online training and included D&I criteria in a satisfaction survey. But we thought that that alone was not enough. We also gave trainings to members of the tourism sector, such as hotels. The event does not end at the stadium. It is necessary to encourage the development of this culture in all relevant fields. We also tried to raise awareness among the media. They are an important stakeholder who create an image of the Games and spread messages all over the country.
We also launched a program to support Paralympics athletes after the event. Once the Games are over, these athletes often struggle to continue their careers. We provided them support to find work and to live independently.
Q4. How do you see the achievements?
In Rio, we welcomed more LGBT athletes than ever before. The Paralympics also registered a record number of countries and participants. A refugee team competed together. And the awareness of people who watched their outstanding performance surely changed.
Although time is needed to sculpt a truly diverse, inclusive society, I can say that Rio 2016 was a milestone for change. We took a holistic approach by involving diverse people and worked in all directions. Diversity really is everything.