Why was board member allowed to behave so recklessly?

Why were so many interests related to the world’s largest sporting event concentrated in the hands of a single board member? The problems with the organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics must be thoroughly examined.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has effectively wrapped up its investigation into the bribery case related to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Haruyuki Takahashi, a former executive board member of the organizing committee, has been indicted four times for allegedly accepting bribes totaling nearly ¥200 million from five companies in return for favors such as giving them preferential treatment to become Games sponsors.

The five companies suspected of paying bribes include a major business clothing retailer, a publishing company and an advertising firm, and a total of 12 executives have been indicted. The Tokyo Games were held amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Japan’s athletes performed very well. It is regrettable that the reputation of the host country has been tarnished by this incident.

The bribes are suspected to have been paid through such channels as a consulting firm that Takahashi heads. Takahashi has reportedly denied the accusations in the indictments, saying the money had “nothing to do with his duties as a board member.”

The criminal trial is expected to be an all-out battle between the defense and the prosecution. One of the focal points of the trial will be what influence Takahashi had over the selection of the Games’ sponsors and how he was involved.

Some of the former corporate executives suspected of paying bribes are said to have admitted that the money constituted bribes. If Takahashi insists the cash was not remuneration for giving the companies special treatment to become a sponsor, he has a responsibility to clarify in court the circumstances under which he received the money.

The side that allegedly paid the bribes also bears a heavy responsibility. Some of the companies were warned by their lawyers and others that their provision of funds could be tantamount to a bribe. Nevertheless, they did not desist, probably because they expected economic benefits and increased publicity from becoming sponsors.

The organizing committee failed to stop Takahashi from acting arbitrarily. The Japan Sports Agency and the Japanese Olympic Committee are said to be examining the problems with the organizing committee and compiling guidelines for the operation of international sporting events.

Japan is aiming to host the 2030 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sapporo. If issues such as ambiguity in the duties of the governing body and transparency in sponsorship contracts are not resolved, the bid will never draw understanding.

Commercialism — collecting huge funds from private companies — has become entrenched since the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. In recent years, many cities have become reluctant to bid to host the Games due to concerns about the heavy cost burden involved.

It is time to remember the amateurism that used to be the foundation of the Olympics and fundamentally rethink the business-oriented nature of the Games.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 15, 2022)