EDITORIAL: Guidelines don’t go far enough to cut ‘rot’ behind sports scandals

Why was the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games plagued by bribery and bid-fixing? What needs to be done to prevent such corruption at mammoth sporting events?

The Japan Sports Agency has attempted to answer these and other questions by announcing draft guidelines on basic principles and ethical norms for organizing and conducting major sporting events such as the Olympic Games and World Championships.

A series of accounting and sexual harassment scandals prompted the development of a governance code for domestic sports organizations in 2019. However, organizing committees for sporting events are not directly subject to the code.

The Agency’s draft policy, based on the Governance Code, is broadly a step in the right direction. But it is questionable whether they will be sufficiently specific and effective.

While bribery is a crime usually committed by individuals, bid fixing is a cartel crime committed by organizations. It is important to build a layered system to prevent these violations.

One reason for the policy’s feeling of inadequacy is the inadequate investigation of the Tokyo Games scandals.

The court proceedings and criminal investigations into the alleged crimes are ongoing. And the agency could do little more than interview 10 former members of the organizing committee to uncover facts surrounding these scandals.

Still, the agency has made some notable suggestions.

It pointed out that the organizing committee’s board of directors had not fulfilled its expected oversight function. The agency proposed reducing the scope of the committee’s work and transferring its decision-making authority to another organization, such as a special council.

The agency also highlighted the need for a new independent body to monitor appointments of organizing committee officers and staff for potential conflicts of interest.

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This is important, the agency argues, as committee members could be provided by companies and organizations involved in running the event.

The agency has also called for the expansion of information disclosure and the establishment of a system in advance to clarify responsibility for violators after the offending organization has been liquidated.

The importance of these steps is undisputed.

Given the busy sporting calendar for Japan, the guidelines should be developed and formalized quickly.

Swimming and track and field world championships will be held in Japan in the next few years, while Aichi Prefecture will host the 2026 Asian Games.

The sports agency plans to finalize the guidelines by the end of March after hearing opinions from sports and related business organizations. It is important to create an effective system to monitor the implementation of the rules and to regularly update the principles and norms, as is the case with the Governance Code.

Increased political efforts are needed to prevent future corruption. However, the development of the guidelines should not lead to leniency for organizations and individuals involved in bribery and bid-fixing.

Regarding the bid scandal, a growing number of central and local government organizations, including the Ministry of Interior and Communications and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, have taken punitive action. They have banned Dentsu Inc. and event service companies involved in the Olympics scandal from bidding for their contracts.

In addition to Dentsu, which has overwhelming power and influence, the entire advertising industry is at the heart of the problem.

This structural rot requires a more comprehensive and fundamental solution.

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It is crucial that the agency drafts the guidance while attempting to uncover any structural and underlying issues.

–The Asahi Shimbun, February 17

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