As organizers approach the final one-year countdown to the Tokyo Olympics, their efforts have earned the approval of one of the key figures in the successful execution of the 2012 London Olympics.

Speaking to The Japan Times on Friday, former London 2012 commercial director Chris Townsend said that Tokyo 2020 would find success thanks to Japan’s enthusiasm for sports and eagerness to experience the Olympics in person.

“Japanese fans are very passionate about sport, and that counts significantly toward a successful Olympic games,” said Townsend, who took the role after steering the English capital’s bid while serving as the marketing director of Transport for London. “Having the country behind you, having the Japanese population get behind the games and wanting to buy tickets and see the events is critical.”

Townsend, visiting Japan in his current capacity as commercial director for the Premier League’s Chelsea, saw Tokyo 2020’s strong first round of ticket sales as a positive sign and encouraged organizers to push for packed houses at both the Olympics and Paralympics.

“Having sold-out stadiums for all events, not just the most popular ones such as athletics, but everything including football and the Paralympics, is really important,” Townsend said. “We put as much energy and effort behind selling out the Paralympic games as we did the Olympic games to make sure both were a success.”

In particular, Townsend praised Tokyo 2020’s commercial team, which has outpaced London’s 44 domestic sponsors with a record 64 companies lending their support to both the Olympics and Paralympics.

“I understand (Tokyo has) exceeded the targets we achieved in London 2012, so congratulations to their commercial team for beating our sponsorship figures,” said Townsend. “We thought it would be beaten by Rio and it wasn’t, so we held onto our record for a bit longer, but we understand the sponsorship figures that have been achieved are quite significantly more than London 2012.”

Even “significantly more” may be an understatement — while London 2012 raised roughly $1.1 billion through domestic sponsors, the International Olympic Committee has praised Tokyo for assembling over $3 billion in local partnerships.

With Tokyo ready to fete the one-year mark on Wednesday with an all-day event at Tokyo International Forum, Townsend urged organizers to show patience in the final leg, noting that the 2012 games struggled to gain the full support of the British press until the Olympic torch began to approach London in front of ever-growing crowds.

“The one-year point still seems like a long way away to the opening ceremony, but the one thing we did find was that the closer we got, the quicker the time went,” recalled Townsend. “We found that we were fully prepared for the opening ceremonies, but still things happened that we never expected to happen, which attempted to make things difficult. We managed to overcome them by being patient and taking each day as it came.

“We had some challenges with the British press, but once they saw the power of the torch relay and the success of the relay as it went around the United Kingdom, we very quickly converted the cynics around the country, particularly in the media, and everyone understood the power of the Olympics and believed it was going to be a success. But it did take us right up until that particular point before we turned everyone into an advocate.”

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