Tokyo Olympics: key questions around spiralling scandal

After a Tokyo court handed down a suspended jail sentence against the former chairman of a Games sponsor, here are some of the scandals around the event.

Published : Apr 21, 2023 11:20 IST , Tokyo - 3 MINS READ

File Photo
File Photo | Photo Credit: AP

File Photo | Photo Credit: AP

The pandemic-postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics were unusual, and controversial, for a number of reasons.

After a Tokyo court handed down a suspended jail sentence against the former chairman of a Games sponsor, here are some of the scandals around the event:

What are the corruption claims?

Japanese prosecutors are investigating or have filed charges in several cases involving allegations of bid-rigging or bribery.

On Friday, the former chairman of retailer Aoki Holdings was handed a suspended prison sentence after he reportedly admitted making payments to secure sponsorship rights.

Several allegations centre around former Tokyo 2020 board member Haruyuki Takahashi, who has been arrested on claims he pocketed hundreds of millions of yen in sponsorship bribes.

Companies implicated range from a publishing firm to a merchandise company licensed to sell soft toys of the Games’ mascots.

A separate strand of allegations involves Japan’s biggest advertising agency, Dentsu, and five other firms, who are accused of bid-rigging to secure Games contracts.

What about other scandals?

Questions over impropriety around the Games erupted well before they finally took place a year late.

In 2019, the then-head of Japan’s Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, stepped down after French prosecutors launched an investigation into corruption allegations linked to Tokyo’s Olympic bid.

A consulting firm hired by the bid committee reportedly paid $370,000 to the son of an International Olympic Committee member before and after Japan was picked to host the Games.

Takeda has denied any wrongdoing.

Other controversies dogged the Games, including a sexism row involving organising committee chief Yoshiro Mori, who stepped down after saying that women speak too much in meetings.

The opening ceremony’s director was fired days before the event over a decades-old skit referencing the Holocaust, while a composer for the ceremony resigned after an old interview surfaced in which he described abusing disabled schoolmates.

How did Covid affect the Games?

The Tokyo Olympics were postponed by a year to the summer of 2021, the first time the Games had ever been shifted during peacetime.

Doubts over whether they would take place at all continued almost up to the last minute. They eventually went ahead in a stripped-back form that saw spectators locked out of most events.

The Games took place during a virus state of emergency and against a backdrop of public anger, with polls showing a majority of Japanese wanted the event to be cancelled or further postponed.

Athletes were subject to strict quarantine and testing, and were not allowed to interact with other teams or locals.

The final price tag of the Games was more than double Tokyo’s original 2013 estimate, weighing in at 1.42 trillion yen, the equivalent of $13 billion at the time.

What about wider implications?

The northern Japanese city of Sapporo had been a frontrunner to host the Winter Olympics in 2030 but the Tokyo scandal has left the bid in serious doubt.

Japanese Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita said earlier this month that it would be “difficult to move ahead” with the bid “without gaining people’s understanding” and suggested Sapporo could aim for 2034 instead.

Recent polls showed that a majority of Sapporo residents oppose hosting the Games, although the city has ruled out holding a public referendum.

The International Olympic Committee has been battling waning interest in hosting Olympics in recent years because of the price tag.

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