The date will be 24 July 2020, the day on which the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games was due to have taken place. And while people everywhere are enjoying more freedom as their governments gradually lift restrictions preventing the spread of COVID-19, there is no escaping the fact that the postponement of the Games has left a big hole in many people’s summers.

But although the world will not be able to gather in person to celebrate the achievements of its finest athletes, the spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics is being kept alive in other ways. Airbnb, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee have joined forces to organise a summer festival featuring over 100 online experiences hosted by elite sportsmen and sportswomen from around the world. The five days of celebrations will commence on the day that the Tokyo Games would have got under way.

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The festival will give sports fans the chance to take part in unique digital events with their heroes. Among the exclusive experiences on offer, participants can join US sprinter Allyson Felix as she talks about returning to athletics after motherhood, take a scenic bike ride with British triathlete Jonny Brownlee, and discuss resilience with swimmer Yusra Mardini, who competed for the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at Rio 2016.

“Guests will be able to connect and interact with some of the most elite competitors within the Olympic and Paralympic Movement, giving them even more reasons to cheer them on next year,” said Airbnb Co-Founder Joe Gebbia.

The Experiences will be available to book from 22 July. Anyone who misses out on a ticket need not despair, however, as many hosts will continue to offer their activities after the festival ends. Indeed, Olympians and Paralympians have been involved in Airbnb Online Experiences since the platform was launched back in April.

Airbnb gives sports fans the opportunity to meet an Olympian online

Image credit: Airbnb

The hosts include Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh, the hockey stars who won Olympic gold medals for Great Britain at the 2016 Rio Games. The couple presented a warm-up event for the summer festival on Wednesday, where it was clear that the experiences are very much a two-way conversation.

The atmosphere was friendly and inclusive, with participants invited (but not pressured) to introduce themselves and bond with each other by discovering the life experiences that they had in common. The session, entitled Super Strengths with a Gold Medal Couple, was all about identifying personal strengths and learning how to “get them out there and make the world a better place”.

Knowing their own strengths, and having the courage to talk about them, had played a crucial role in Helen and Kate’s journey to becoming Olympic champions. It was Helen who scored one of the decisive penalties in the shootout against the Netherlands in the gold medal match in Rio. “I knew my strength and I was confident in my ability,” she explained. “We shared everything, so I knew that my teammates wouldn’t have wanted anyone else taking that penalty other than me. Knowing that at that particular moment was the most powerful thing.”

Armed with self-confidence and emboldened by the belief of her teammates, Helen scored her penalty. Minutes later, Great Britain were the Olympic champions. She and Kate have the gold medals to prove it, and were only too happy to show them off to those taking part on Wednesday.

Most punters who buy a ticket to one of the online experiences will never come close to winning Olympic gold. However, the message is a simple one: we all have strengths and we can use them to bring out the best in ourselves and others. And what’s more, in its own way the summer festival is giving members of the public the chance to play a real part in someone else’s quest for Olympic glory.

For many months, the pandemic has deprived potential Olympians of the opportunity to compete and therefore of their principal form of income. The Airbnb Online Experiences platform provides direct earning opportunities for those athletes, with proceeds from ticket sales offering a valuable new stream of revenue. In this light, the choice of members of the public to participate in the summer festival can be seen as a concrete gesture of support for their favourite athletes, including some who are harbouring ambitions of fulfilling their Olympic and Paralympic dreams at the postponed Games in Tokyo next year.

"Paralympians and Para athletes are masters of innovation and finding creative solutions to daily challenges they face,” said the President of the International Paralympic Committee, Andrew Parsons. "The summer festival of Olympian and Paralympian Online Experiences celebrates this tenacity and gives Para athletes a platform to share their stories to empower others, while also offering a new earning opportunity especially needed during these difficult times."

By Rob Hunt

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