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Even without spectators, the international mega sports event in Tokyo was a successful proving ground for tech

Biometrics, congestion visualization systems and other cutting-edge technology solutions increased efficiency and security at last summer’s international mega sports event in Japan.

Held amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was not only postponed for a year, they were closed to most spectators as Japanese health authorities tried to contain rising infections. Nevertheless, the event provided an opportunity to deploy technologies that had never been used before.

A new legacy of innovation

Safety and security were the watchwords of the event, and novel technologies helped make the event a success. One important priority is ensuring that only authorized people are admitted to venues. In 2019, as demand for tickets was at least 10 times above supply, organizers said they were investigating the sale of nearly 7,000 tickets purchased with fraudulent IDs.

Face recognition technology can thwart fraudsters and other bad actors. Athletes, staff, volunteers and other attendees at venues and other facilities were admitted after being cleared with a face recognition system, the first of its kind to be used at the venerable sports event. Their faces were scanned at entry points and compared to images on a database of registered photos; accreditation cards equipped with IC chips were also linked to the system.

The solution prevents card theft and spoofing. At some venues, iris authentication scans were implemented for an additional layer of security.

The face recognition technology is part of a portfolio of advanced biometric authentication technologies developed by NEC with privacy and security in mind. NEC has been ranked first in the world since 2009 in a face recognition technology benchmarking test conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology and was again ranked in August 2021.*

“Our mission was to use ICT to support the safe and secure management of the event regardless of whether spectators were present,” said Masaaki Suganuma, NEC executive officer in charge of the event.

While the venues were not crowded, congestion visualization system was implemented at the facility where the athletes were staying, which hosted over 10,000 athletes. In a first at the event, they were able to check congestion levels at cafeterias, fitness centers, and other facilities via displays and a smartphone app that received data from a network of cameras.

In another first at the event, NEC provided a next-generation commercial radio system to ensure smooth communications among staff from organizers and contractors. Wireless LTE handsets were used at 23 venues, giving participants a clear, reliable signal that was not hindered by problems that can affect standard mobile phone reception.

To help ensure a safe and secure event, NEC provided real-time security information to the security coordination center. This consisted of automatic updates on traffic, weather, emergencies and accidents related to 43 event venues, in addition to relevant social media messages. A risk analysis was performed for each incident, giving security personnel an immediate understanding of important threats so that security issues could be prevented.

Meanwhile, NEC and Cisco Systems Corporation delivered about 16,000 routers, switches, wireless network devices, security network devices, and other network devices to support the information infrastructure of the event. NEC also created a network environment with software-defined networking (SDN) for approximately 20,000 PCs used by tournament officials during the event. This was used to set up the initial settings at the time of PC installation, which allowed for flexible settings to be made in accordance with the application.

Towards the next event

The technologies underpinning the event were an integral part of its success. Organizers of the next event, to be held in Paris a century after the city last hosted them in 1924, hailed this event as a stepping stone.

"We need to thank our Japanese friends, to be able to pull that off in this particular situation is kind of amazing, it's a remarkable achievement," said CEO Etienne Thobois of the next event. "They had to cope with it, and they did a fantastic job. Obviously we hope that in three years from now, this will be behind us, or not in the same level of worries. But definitely we learned from that."

“The technologies and solutions including those from NEC consist of a new paradigm for the next event,” said Toshiro Yonemura, chief security officer for the event committee. “In addition, I believe they will continue to evolve and become inseparable contributions to the safety and security of our daily lives.”

  • *
    Face Recognition Vendor Test Ongoing, supported by and in collaboration with the US Department of Homeland Security and others, assessed the accuracy of authentication for tens of millions of people using face recognition technologies from top vendors from throughout the world. "Results shown from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) do not constitute an endorsement of any particular system, product, service, or company by NIST.”
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(December 21, 2021)