Insights & Analyses

Tokyo 2020 Olympics will use facial recognition to identify athletes, officials & journalists

December 28, 2017

Entry to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could be more convenient and more secure thanks to the utilization of facial recognition technology, preventing authorized attendees from lending or borrowing physical ID cards, or criminals from stealing and using them.

While spectators will still use traditional tickets, participants in the games, as well as personnel and media, will be authorized with biometrics, according to The Japan Times.

Up to 400,000 people are expected to be involved in the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, making it a high-profile security concern and potential target for terrorism. Following the Tokyo Olympics from July 24 to Aug. 9, the Paralympics will also take place in Japan from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6, and facial recognition will be used there as well.

The new biometric system at the 2020 games will not replace ID cards entirely — attendees will still be issued a physical card with a photo of the rightful owner. But those entering facilities for the Olympics will have their face automatically checked against registered photos, in search of potential discrepancies or unidentified entrants.

The organizing committee hopes that the use of biometrics will not only enhance security, but also expedite any checkpoints where identity must be verified.

The system will utilize technology from NEC Corp., a Japanese technology company. Officials reportedly tested it with media entering the Japan House at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

Utilization of facial recognition technology for security is not new, though in recent years it has been implemented in the sports world in unique ways. Earlier this year, a half-marathon in Beijing used automatic facial identification methods to crack down on cheating in the race.

Estimates have suggested the market for facial recognition could grow to $6.84 billion by 2021, led by surveillance and government uses. Already, it is commonly used for tasks such as authorizing financial payments to identifying rideshare drivers to simply unlocking your phone.