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Japan Olympic boss was pressured by IOC to resign: sources

Tsunekazu Takeda, right, announces his intention to step down as president of the Japanese Olympic Committee before the assembled media corps in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on March 19, 2019. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

TOKYO -- Bribery allegations surrounding Tokyo's successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games led to the announcement by Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) President Tsunekazu Takeda that he would resign when his term expires in June.

While Takeda has claimed his innocence over the graft allegations, he is not only leaving the JOC presidency he has held for 18 years but is also set to quit the International Olympic Committee (IOC) where he has been a member for seven years. Takeda apparently succumbed to pressure from outside for him to refrain from any Olympic activities.

Even after Takeda vacates those posts, suspicions surrounding Tokyo's bidding activities would remain, making it likely for the Japanese capital to head into the quadrennial extravaganza that is just 16 months away while having to deal with the allegations.

Several hours before Takeda brought up his resignation during a JOC board meeting on March 19, a government source revealed in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki bureaucratic center, "It is the IOC that pushed the button for his resignation, though it never came to the surface. There is no doubt about it." The view was shared by other parties familiar with the situation.

A source close to the organizers of the Tokyo Games said, "Should Takeda be found guilty in a trial in France, media organizations here and abroad would criticize that the Tokyo Olympics was bought. Then the IOC would be attacked for picking Tokyo as the host city. (IOC President Thomas) Bach wanted to avoid that."

Bach, a German lawyer, assumed the IOC presidency at the committee's general assembly in September 2013, where Tokyo won the vote to host the 2020 Games. Bach, 65, had backed 71-year-old Takeda, who as IOC marketing commission chair contributed to cementing the IOC's financial footing, and emphasized at an IOC general assembly in September 2017 that the JOC president was an essential member. Takeda's retirement age as an IOC member, which is normally set at 70, was even extended to the Tokyo Olympics as an exceptional measure.

Therefore, Bach had initially been taking a wait-and-see stance toward the bribery allegations based on the principle of presumed innocence. Yet as French law enforcers stepped up their investigation into the case, the IOC president apparently lost his compassion for Takeda. There were even rumors that Bach would skip an event this coming July marking one year before the Tokyo Games. Such moves suggested that the IOC was in effect renouncing Takeda for staying on.

The IOC has been extra sensitive to the graft allegations as the Olympic brand has already been tarnished by doping scandals involving athletes and younger audiences showing less interest in the event. As the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games was also marred by a bidding corruption scandal, the IOC apparently did not want any further trouble.

Since Takeda became subject to bribery investigations, he has been absent from international conferences out of fear of possible detention overseas. Such interference with his activities even sparked criticism within the JOC. Takeda was nevertheless eager to stay on in his posts, but the IOC's implicit messages dealt a decisive blow to him. Earlier in March, Takeda began to seriously consult with his aides about his resignation, according to a source close to the JOC.

As Takeda made it clear that he did not want to "appear to be resigning to take responsibility," those acting as a liaison with the IOC paved the way for him to leave the JOC presidency when his term expires in June, to make it look as though he is "making way for the younger generation." Several officials knowledgeable about the situation testified that "The decks had been cleared and he was in checkmate."

"The IOC takes note with the greatest respect of the decision taken by Mr. Takeda to resign as an IOC member," the IOC said in a statement. "Our respect of this decision is even greater because he took this step to protect the Olympic Movement while the presumption of innocence, on which the IOC insists, continues to prevail."

(Japanese original by Yuta Kobayashi and Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department)

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