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Suspicions grow over Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid team's payment for 'consulting fees'

Suspicions have been raised over the credibility of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid team's decision to pay about 230 million yen to the "Black Tidings" company in Singapore for "consulting fees" as part of efforts to win the right to host the Games.

Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) Chairman Tsunekazu Takeda, who headed the bid team in 2013, was hard-pressed to explain the deal during a meeting on May 16 of the House of Representatives Budget Committee. While the total cost of hosting the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games is expected to swell, facts about the Olympic bid team going to extremes to win its bid to host the Games have been exposed one after another.

Takeda, the top figure in the Japanese sports world, was grilled as an unsworn witness during the lower house budget committee meeting. Takeda emphasized, "It is a common practice to have contracts with overseas consultants and there will be no success without them. Their consultations were crucial for our last-minute vote counting and winning votes." He made the statement when he was questioned by Democratic Party (DP) legislator Yuichiro Tamaki.

Each candidate city for hosting Olympic events signs contracts with multiple consulting firms at home and abroad in order to receive guidance on bidding campaign speeches and advice on lobbying activities aimed at collecting votes from International Olympic Committee (IOC) members. In its bid to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the bid committee signed contracts with about 10 consulting firms, sources said.

According to the bid committee's report on its activities, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the bid committee footed the bill for bidding activities and spent about 8.9 billion yen between September 2011 and September 2013. Still, that figure is about 60 percent of about 14.9 billion yen spent on Tokyo's unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

Of the 8.9 billion yen, about 4.1 billion yen was used for overseas activities to try to win the bid to host the Games. The "consulting fees" in question were included in expenses for overseas public relations activities -- part of international bidding activities. The bid committee, which had collected contributions from the private sector and support money, shouldered the expenses for the "consulting fees." The Tokyo Metropolitan Government did not directly pay the consulting fees. Furthermore, Takeda insisted that the payment was legitimate because it was audited by a Tokyo-based audit company and approved by the IOC.

Nonetheless, suspicions have been raised about the personal connections of Ian Tan Tong Han, who represented the "Black Tidings" company. The French financial prosecutor's office has been investigating disgraced former International Association of Athletics Federations President Lamine Diack and his son Papa Massata Diack on suspicion of receiving cash in return for giving silent approval to doping by Russian athletes. The French prosecutors focused their attention on the fact that Papa Massata Diack is a close friend of Ian Tan Tong Han. Allegations have emerged that money aimed at colleting votes was funneled to Papa Massata Diack, who had a voice in the decision on which country would host the games.

Takeda emphasized that he was not aware of the connection between Ian Tan Tong Han and Papa Massata Diack. However, Ian Tan Tong Han has not been reached since the allegations came to light and the flow of the consulting fees has not been confirmed. Sources abroad who have been long involved in Olympic events say that Ian Tan Tong Han is not well known. Ian Tan Tong Han's Singapore office was in an apartment room. The fact that the Tokyo bid committee paid the massive amount of funds to a company that looked like a shell company has led to a sense of public distrust in the Tokyo Olympic bidding campaign.

In the final round of voting at the IOC general meeting in September 2013, Tokyo won 60 votes against 36 for Istanbul. The result showed a landslide victory for Tokyo, but the competition between the three cities including Madrid had been so keen that it was hard to predict the winner. Before the opening of the IOC general meeting, people linked to the race for the right to host the 2020 Games gathered at a lobby of a Buenos Aires hotel where IOC members were staying. Rumors were swirling that people related to Istanbul were apparently calling in IOC members to try to persuade them to vote for their city. Suspicion was stoking idle fears among people there.

At that time, Tokyo was fighting an uphill battle. Then Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, who was chairman of Tokyo's Olympic bid committee, came under fire for saying in April 2013 that Islamic countries were "fighting with each other." In July that year, Tokyo's bid to host the Games was viewed with anxiety as news spread of a leakage of contaminated water at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant.

The Tokyo bid committee regarded the IAAF World Championships in Athletics that opened in Moscow in August 2013 as a major highlight of its activities. That's because many IOC members, mainly those related to athletic sports, would gather there. Ian Tan Tong Han had already promoted himself. Through Dentsu Inc., a major Japanese international advertising and public relations company, the Tokyo bid committee confirmed that Ian Tan Tong Han had played a role in helping Beijing win the right to host the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Athletics. The bid committee abandoned its pride to pay the consulting fees of 230 million yen.

The murky payment of consulting fees is not the only step taken by the bid committee to win the right to host the Games that sparked public distrust. Although the bid committee changed itself into an organizing committee tasked with preparing and operating the Games in January 2014, it was revealed that the total cost of hosting the world event was underestimated when the bid committee was campaigning for its bid.

Above all, the construction plan for a new Olympic stadium -- the main venue for the Games -- raised havoc. The construction cost for the new national stadium was estimated at 130 billion yen at the time of the bidding campaign. But after looking into details of the plan, the total cost was expected to soar to about 300 billion yen, forcing the scrapping of the construction plan in July 2015. Meanwhile, the total cost of building temporary venues that are to be dismantled after the Games is likely to rise to about 300 billion yen -- about four times the 72.3 billion yen estimated at the time of the bidding campaign. Tokyo 2020 Olympic Organizing Committee President Yoshiro Mori said in July 2015 that the total cost of hosting the Games could exceed 2 trillion yen. It was earlier estimated at 734 billion yen at the time of the bidding campaign.

Why did the Tokyo Olympic committee have to bite off more than it could chew? The root cause of this stems from their eagerness to overcome Tokyo's weakness shown when it miserably lost its bid to host the 2016 Games. The bid committee set aside hefty funds for overseas consulting fees this time because it had the bitter lesson that it was weak in lobbying activities abroad. Another weakness stems from low support ratings at home for hosting the Games. As compared with Rio de Janeiro, which received a support rate of 84.5 percent for hosting the 2016 Summer Games, Tokyo had only a 55.5 percent support rate for the same event. Tokyo received a support rate of 70 percent for hosting the 2020 Games in a survey conducted in January 2013 by the IOC, but there were persistent views in Japan that priority should be placed on efforts to rebuild the regions battered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. If the government were to spend huge amounts of money on the Games, it could see public support declining. Holding the estimated cost of hosting the Games down to the minimum was a desperate measure.

A senior official of the organizing committee said the situation looks hopeless. "If we simulated everything at the very outset, we would not be able to host the Olympic Games." The organizing committee is under pressure to make adjustments to meet realities.

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