Japan's 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics bidding process has raised suspicions both in Japan and overseas.
The Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee transferred a total of 230 million yen into the bank account of a Singapore-based consulting company on two occasions before and after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) general meeting in September 2013, where Tokyo won the 2020 Games by beating rivals Istanbul and Madrid.
Japanese Olympics Committee Chairman Tsunekazu Takeda, who headed the bidding committee, defended the payment.
"The payment was compensation for gathering information, and it's not something that should raise suspicions," he told a Diet session as a witness. "It was fair bidding activity and completely clean."
However, the head of the consulting company is close to a former head of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) who has been prosecuted on charges of graft in connection with the cover-up of systematic doping in the Russian athletic community. The bank account in question was also used in the cover-up of Russian athletes' doping. There's a great chance that the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee's remittance of such a large sum of money to the Singaporean consulting firm would not have come to light if French prosecutors hadn't launched an investigation into the alleged graft and money-laundering in order to get to the bottom of a global corruption scandal.
The former head of the IAAF had also served as a long-time member of the IOC Executive Board until recently and wielded great influence within the IOC. As such, suspicions have been raised that the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee provided the 230 million yen to the consulting company in anticipation of and in return for rounding up votes for Japan's bid.
Numerous companies offered to help the bid committee, and the team selected the Singaporean company after consulting with advertising giant Dentsu Inc., according to Takeda. The decisive reason for choosing the company appears to have been the firm's connections to the athletics community. There is no sign that the company is active now, and some have suggested that it was a dummy company.
Takeda and others involved in the bid should determine specifically how the 230 million yen was used. However, they have failed to even contact the company that received the money since the scandal surfaced. They do not appear keen to clear up the suspicions on their own. Moreover, Takeda's comment that 230 million yen "isn't a particularly high amount" is out of touch with the sensibilities of ordinary people.
Suspicions that Japan may have attempted to buy votes for its bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano prompted the IOC to ban members of its Executive Board from visiting candidate cities. As a result, the demand for consultants in lobbying activities has increased. A speech on "Japanese hospitality," which is said to have been instrumental in Tokyo winning its bid to host the 2020 Games, was based on the advice of a British consultant.
The Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee signed contracts with about 10 companies and paid a combined 786 million yen to them out of some 8.9 billion yen set aside for its bidding activities. Questions remain as to whether these amounts were appropriate. In order to gain the public's understanding, details of the bid committee's activities, including how such massive funds were used, should be fully revealed.