Hand holding medals on blue background

2020 Tokyo Olympics: Social Media Briefs of Southeast Asian Athletes

Ahmad Munawar

Aug 13, 2021

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have drawn to a close on Sunday with Paris taking over for the 2024 edition. Despite contending with the COVID-19 virus, the city of Tokyo admirably organised and ran the congregation of sporting excellence with little or no hitch. Notably, the athletes also lifted their performances and delivered several memorable feats. 

The Olympics also presented a global platform for these sporting figures to highlight issues that needed to be addressed. From mental health to asylum seekership to transgender issues, the global games gave the athletes another platform to perform apart from the sporting arenas. 

Undoubtedly, social media played a big role in finding out what topics the audience was talking about and sharing with their networks. Meltwater took a glance at selected Southeast Asian contingents representing their nations and saw what people had to say in social media.

Singapore athletes social media scorecard

From the absolute high of winning a gold medal in the last edition of the Olympics, the island nation of Singapore had a disappointing outing this time. The 23-strong contingent in various sports such as fencing, sailing, track & field, swimming and diving performed to the best of their efforts. Table tennis star Yu Mengyu almost clinched a bronze medal but came up short in the third-place match against the world’s second ranked player Japan’s Mima Ito.

With 50,000 mentions in social media discussing the nation’s participation in the Games, undoubtedly all eyes were focused on the country’s swimming legend Joseph Schooling. Topping his gold medal feat in Rio was always a big challenge in view of the long list of fierce competition in the pool but his underwhelming performance drew a wave of criticism online. The online trolling situation was so bad that the country’s president had to step in to remind people to support their athletes. A photo of Schooling in a consoling hug with his coach after the race also brought together the nation in support of their swimming hero. 

Another topic that received international attention was the prize money that Olympians would have received if they had won a medal. The monetary reward for Singaporean athletes - US$750,000 for a gold medal - drew comparisons with other nations and many commented that the athletes should be paid handsomely for their efforts. Singaporeans also went online to show their support when their best shot of a medal came from the table tennis arena. Despite national paddler Yu Mengyu stumbling over the final hurdle in the third-place playoff, the majority of Singaporeans were supportive and praised her valiant efforts.

Indonesia athletes social media scorecard

The region’s most populous country Indonesia sent a team of 28 athletes to Tokyo and returned home with a grand haul of five medals, including a gold medal in badminton. Indonesia’s fabled stable of shuttlers again showed up strongly at the Olympic courts and the women’s doubles team of Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu duly got their adulation from Indonesians on social media. 

With almost half a million mentions of Indonesian athletes during the Olympics, the badminton pair overcame the odds and brought home the gold. The ecstatic Indonesians celebrated Greysia and Apriyani’s victory on the badminton court and unsurprisingly, they have become the new darlings of social media in Indonesia. 

On top of the duo’s win, Indonesians on social media were also brimming with hope for another shuttler, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, in the men’s singles semi-finals. Anthony was the first Indonesian to do so since 2004 when badminton legend Taufik Hidayat won the gold medal in Athens. Despite losing that match, Indonesians continued to rally behind him on social media and he returned home with a bronze medal.

The Philippines athletes social media scorecard

Despite sending a small delegation of 19 athletes to Tokyo, the Philippines returned home with a big reputation. And none bigger than weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz who won the country’s first-ever Olympics gold medal. Using our Social Echo metric - the most shared news article in social media - we found that Hidilyn’s triumphant story was being covered internationally. 

British media outlet Daily Mail’s article on her emotional victory was shared almost a million times. With that much international coverage, there is understandably a large human interest in her story and raises Hidilyn’s profile in her home country as well as across the world. The picture of her beaming with pride during her final lift has become synonymous with a historic moment for the Philippines.

However, an overarching narrative in the Philippines is the overall performance of women athletes at the Olympics. There was fervent support from Filipinos in social media and overall a sense of positivity for female athletes representing their country. Apart from Hidilyn’s gargantuan achievement, there were other significant mentions of other female athletes who gave their all at the Olympics. 

Nesthy Petecio received support nationwide as she boxed her way to a silver medal, making her the first Filipino woman to win a medal in boxing. With a storied background in boxing, the country is looking forward to Nesthy’s future and Filipinos have dubbed her as the female counterpart of national hero and world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao. She also dedicated her win to the Pride movement. Using social media is a great way to advocate social causes and Nesthy championed the cause through coverage of her victory.

Another female athlete who was also prominently featured was skateboarder Margielyn Didal. There was a growing interest in her skateboarding exploits at the Olympics after her championship wins at the Asian Games and X Games. Her Instagram account stands at 775,000 followers, growing at an average of 45,000 followers each month in the past year. Despite not winning a medal in Tokyo, many Filipinos were watching and commenting on her performances while at the same time, praising the sporting contributions of female athletes.

Malaysia athletes social media scorecard

The tigers of Malaysia sent a 30-strong contingent to the Olympics and returned with a haul of two medals of silver and bronze. There were almost half a million mentions of the athletes and their performances in Tokyo and they managed to make a name for themselves in cycling and badminton.

Azizulhasni Awang won a silver medal for his efforts in keirin cycling and Malaysians were out in full force to congratulate him for his heroics. The cyclist - in his post-victory interview - was in tears after winning his silver medal and made a plea for more funding to the sports scene in Malaysia. Social media responded with Malaysians highlighting that Azizulhasni was based in Melbourne and had to make multiple sacrifices to get to Tokyo. With coverage on an issue such as important as funding, officials can now get a better grasp and understanding of how they can boost the sports scene in Malaysia

Amid that emotional pursuit, Malaysians also rejoiced when their men’s doubles picked up the bronze for badminton. The duo, Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, overcame the Indonesian pair of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan in the third-place playoff. The country’s minister congratulated them on their victory and Malaysians followed suit with positive admiration for the shuttlers. 

However, the most shared piece of news related to a Malaysian athlete was about knitting and cardigans! British world champion diver Tom Daley is a knitting enthusiast and he was spotted several times during the Olympics stitching various pieces of clothing and accessories. One of them turned out to be for his friend and fellow diver Cheong Jun Hoong. Using their Instagram accounts, the pair shared Daley’s creation which further increased their reach to their fans worldwide. 

Three wooden figures standing on a podium

With the myriad of individuals and stakeholders involved in organising a global event such as the Olympics, there is so much more to learn from the constant stream of content being broadcast to the world. Athletes, broadcasters, journalists, influencers, content creators and sporting officials and especially the fans make up the cacophony found on social media and the news.

Media coverage is no longer a silo in a sporting event or campaign. It is a colourful mix of social media, news, and interacting with fans and audiences on social media. To learn more of how Meltwater can show you to use media intelligence - from media coverage to audience behaviour to influencers in the sporting arena - fill out the form below. 

With social media, the athletes from these Southeast Asian countries can reach out and interact with their fans despite current restrictions and lockdowns. Along with their victories in hand, these athletes would love to know what the audience is saying because that is the only way they can better interact with them and gain support for their future sporting excellence.