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Private univ. group slams JOC rules on public gatherings for Pyeongchang athletes

Japan's Satoko Miyahara performs during the women's figure skating free program during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, South Korea, on Feb. 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

An association of private universities is set to ask the government to take action to rectify Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) restrictions banning universities and other organizations from publicly holding send-off gatherings for their Olympic athletes.

The Association of Private Universities of Japan (APUJ), comprising 407 private institutions across the country, will submit a letter of request to the national government on Feb. 27. The move comes after the JOC instructed universities and other organizations to keep send-off parties for their Pyeongchang Games athletes private.

Shunichi Suzuki, minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, told reporters at a Feb. 27 new conference, "We'll instruct the Japan Sports Agency and the Cabinet Secretariat's Headquarters for the Promotion of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to clearly sort out problems." Noting that JOC had not demanded that send-off gatherings be held behind closed doors before Pyeongchang, Suzuki added, "The latest measure was abrupt and has left those concerned feeling strange. It would be inappropriate if the JOC's latest action becomes a precedent."

Responding to a Mainichi Shimbun request for comment, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) official said there is no problem with the use of the Olympics for educational and non-commercial purposes.

The JOC is now under pressure to work out clear criteria that will not dampen rising enthusiasm for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Guidelines for the protection of intellectual property in the Olympics, which the JOC worked out in line with IOC rules, stipulate that only companies and other organizations sponsoring the Olympics are allowed to use the Olympic logo, relevant names and other intellectual property in principle. Furthermore, only sponsors, local governments and sports associations representing athletes can publicly hold send-off gatherings.

Prior to the Pyeongchang Games, the JOC notified relevant sports associations of the guidelines' details, warning that the committee might revoke athletes' qualifications to participate in the games if the rules were violated. The JOC has deemed that send-off gatherings for athletes organized by their schools, regardless of whether they are private or public, would constitute ambush marketing because they could be regarded as ads to recruit new students.

In response, figure skater Satoko Miyahara's home institution Kansai University, and Hosei University, where some of Japan's women's hockey team members are enrolled, held their respective send-off events behind closed doors to avoid causing trouble to the athletes.

The APUJ is poised to ask that the relevant rules not apply to school operators as educational institutions whose aim is not pursuing profits.

"The uniform regulations, which could damage people's enthusiasm for cheering on athletes, are outrageous," said APUJ Secretary-General Hidefumi Koide.

In the meantime, the JOC announced on Feb. 23 that it will allow schools to which athletes in the Pyeongchang Olympics belong to hold public briefing sessions on the games. However, the JOC has not decided whether to allow relevant organizations to publicly hold such gatherings following the Tokyo Games in 2020.

"We've held consultations with the IOC, and gained consent for gatherings after the (Pyeongchang) games," said an official of the JOC.

In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, however, IOC marketing director Timo Lumme denied that the JOC had consulted with the IOC over whether Japanese universities and other organizations should be allowed to hold public briefing sessions following Pyeongchang. Lumme said the IOC has never given instructions on such restrictions to the JOC, adding that the Feb. 23 announcement is based on the JOC's own decision.

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