Tokyo Olympics spokesperson: Passion still lives after postponement

By Lisa Maresca

April 14, 2020

Masa Takaya G’07 discusses how his experience at Syracuse University helped him land his dream job working for the Olympic Organizing Committee.

Image of Masa Takaya

Masa Takaya always knew what he wanted to do. Growing up in Japan, he was a serious triathlete, training and competing while in college at Keio University in Tokyo.

“My passion for sports never faded away," says Takaya. Though he didn’t accomplish his goal of being an Olympic athlete, he found a career doing the next best thing—as an Olympic Games spokesperson.

As spokesperson for the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Takaya handles all the media inquiries with his team. During the games, he’ll join the daily press conference with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Before his most current role, Takaya served as acting communications director for the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee, managing all international communications including presentations to the IOC.

Takaya knew he wanted a role supporting the Olympics when he applied to the Newhouse School, where he earned a master’s degree in public relations in 2007.

“My personal statement when applying to the Newhouse School read, 'My immediate academic objective in applying to Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications is to realize my ultimate goal of working for the Olympic Games,'" he says.

When Takaya began researching graduate programs, he considered the skills he needed to stand out in the communications profession.

“As I had a strong background in advertising and marketing communications already, I decided to study public relations to fully complement the skills necessary for a career in sports communications,” he says.

[Listen to 'Cuse Conversations to learn more about Takaya’s Syracuse University experience and what it’s like to work for the Olympic Organizing Committee.]

Looking back to those school days, Takaya remembers how he was struggling for the first few months to study at the graduate level with non-native English language skills.

“A school advisor even advised me to skip the semester and focus on developing my basic English skills. I was nearly depressed,” he says. “My classmates and friends at the Newhouse School, however, were tremendously helpful. I really appreciate their support even today.”

After graduation, Takaya returned to Japan and went to work for the Osaka 2007 world championships in athletics. He then took up a position at the 2016 Tokyo Organizing Committee as the manager of internal communications.

Now, working for the 2020 Games, he could never anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic that would lead to a historic postponement. The days leading up the decision to delay competition until July 2021 were hectic.

“It was probably the most intense period in this games lifecycle, which started straight after the host city election back in September 2013,” Takaya explains. “Things radically changed day by day. Sometimes, it was necessary to stay up till pre-dawn hours in order to coordinate things with Lausanne (Switzerland, IOC headquarters). I never felt it was difficult, though. It is the nature of this work."

When the final decision was made, Takaya says there isn’t really a word to describe the mood, but despite the disappointment that the games could not go on as originally scheduled, he says it was the right call.

“The Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 are now scheduled in 2021," he says. “This is a global crisis, and the health and safety of all involved are above anything else.”

Asked about his career plan after the games next year, Takaya says he’s inclined to continue in sports communications.  “It would be great if I could keep contributing to our society through sports. The power of sports matters to society.”