Instead of the basic premise of “fair play,” the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games revealed a glaring lack of regulatory compliance by some top-tier Japanese companies that worked with the organizing committee.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on Feb. 28 handed out a spate of indictments against six companies, including advertising giant Dentsu Inc., on charges of rigging bids for Tokyo Olympic pre-events in violation of antitrust laws.
Also indicted were six executives of the six companies, as well as a former deputy executive director of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee’s operations bureau.
The suspects are accused of acting against public interest by manipulating the competitive bidding process for contracts with the organizing committee to operate Olympic test and main events, thereby distorting fair competition among bidders.
But Dentsu, Hakuhodo DY Holdings Inc. and Tokyu Agency Inc. are supposed to lead the advertising industry by example and compliance with the law.
Dentsu, which had an especially deep relationship with the organizing committee and is believed to have played a leading role in the corruption, has not explained itself to the public.
We understand the case is still under investigation and being tried, but the company definitely owes society an explanation. The same goes for all companies, including ADK Holdings Inc., which was granted leniency by the Fair Trade Commission for voluntarily providing information about the suspected wrongdoing.
Some local governments have already removed the companies involved from the bidding process.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has indicated that if bid-rigging is confirmed, she will demand those companies pay damages to the liquidation corporation for the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee.
Some people suggest that the collusion was partly caused by the extreme pressure felt by the organizing committee that failure was not an option for this important event for Japan.
But society can never be expected to condone such action, especially if the organizing committee and the partner companies acted as one without following necessary procedures and illegally raised costs for the already expensive event.
In recent years, internationally experienced experts have been indispensable in managing the Olympics, but their participation was limited for the Tokyo Games.
As well, the traditionally close relations between the Japanese sports community and major advertising agencies, such as Dentsu, resulted in the organizing committee leaving everything to the agencies.
Such power dynamics between the advertising agencies and the sports community must be re-examined.
Athletic organizations, many of which are structurally fragile, are made up of former athletes, few of whom, if any, are experts at managing organizations and events.
With a handful of exceptions, the reality is that most athletic organizations have always relied on advertising agencies for almost everything, from soliciting sponsors for funds to managing events, including TV and media coverage.
When the suspected collusion came to light, Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) President Yasuhiro Yamashita lamented, “This taints the image of sports and the Olympics once again.”
But his words illustrate the JOC’s tendency to rely on others.
In the days ahead, the swimming and track and field world championships will be held in Japan, as well as the 2026 Asian Games in Aichi Prefecture.
How will the organizers ensure fairness of management?
They must stop relying excessively on advertising agencies and restructure themselves so that they can participate autonomously in the management of the events.
Without such improvements, the sports community as well as the government must understand that there should never be another major athletic event in Japan.
–The Asahi Shimbun, March 1