Scandal-hit Tokyo Olympic committee lacked sports know-how

A bid-fixing scandal involving the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee highlights the members’ inexperience and inability to deal with such an international sporting spectacle.

Toshiro Muto, the committee’s CEO, was new to organizing sporting events, with a background as a former top bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance.

Other important committee posts have been filled by persons formerly on loan from, or from, the central government or the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

There was almost no one at senior level on the committee with previous experience of running the Summer Games or international sporting events.

That may be a contributing factor to the ongoing scandal, as a Committee member and three company executives were arrested on February 8 in connection with bid-fixing contracts related to Games’ testing events.

The lack of experience in running a major sporting event is in sharp contrast to the organizers of the London Olympics.

At the 2012 Games, many Organizing Committee members came from all over the world, regardless of nationality, bringing with them rich backgrounds and expertise in running major sporting events.

But the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee has been reluctant to bring foreign talent on board to make up for the shortage of such personnel. They wanted to contain the personnel costs and the language barrier also stood in the way.

As a result, there were only a handful of committee officials who had the expertise to run sporting events.

One of them was Yasuo Mori, who was arrested on February 8 on suspicion of collusion in bidding for the test events. He was originally from the Japan Association of Athletics Federations.

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The committee had to rely on Mori, 55, to select the companies that will run testing events, which require highly specialized knowledge of each of the competitions.

The Tokyo Olympics hosted a record 33 sporting events, a daunting challenge for an organizer with a limited pool of staff familiar with running international competitions.

Hosting even one World Cup level event is a challenge,” said a former senior committee official. “Having 33 such events running simultaneously makes the task extraordinarily complex. So it was natural for us on the committee that events should be run by companies with a track record in each area.”

The committee engaged a panel of external experts to review the procurement process. However, the panel only examined the content of the final contracts with successful bidders, not the selection process in the tenders.

Mori was a middle-distance runner until he graduated from college. After graduating, he worked on urban development projects at Tokyu Corp., a railway operator in Tokyo.

In 2004 he left the company to work for the Japan Association of Athletics Federations. In the meantime he was also a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Marathon Foundation.

Mori joined the Organizing Committee of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2014 to lead the committee’s operations office.

A former senior committee official thought highly of Mori.

He was extremely competent in his business skills and rich experience in sporting events,” the official said. “It would have been impossible to host the Summer Games without someone like Mori.”

According to people familiar with the internal affairs of the organizing committee, Mori became concerned about the operation of some venues for smaller sporting events given the limited preparation time.

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He visited companies to invite them to tender for testing events.

As the deadline for submitting bids approached, he called potential bidders to confirm their attendance, which they assured him.

One of the three other officers arrested was Koji Henmi, 55, former deputy director of the sports division of advertising giant Dentsu Inc. Henmi has a long history of organizing sporting events.

When he received a position to direct the Tokyo Games in 2016, he was Dentsu’s contact for related events. He listened to the intentions and preferences of other companies in the bidding process, and closely communicated with the Dentsu staff on loan to the committee about the events.

After the Summer Games ended in August 2021, Mori became a consultant for event production company Cerespo Co., a bidder that won the most deals in the test event bids.

Yoshiji Kamata, a third officer arrested, was CEO of Cerespo.

They live in a narrow circle,” said an official close to the organizing committee.

In the coming years, Japan is expected to host a variety of international sports competitions, injecting huge sums of taxpayer money, which could similarly place great demands on local officials who have little or no experience in running such events.

This summer, Fukuoka will host the World Swimming Championships. In 2025, Tokyo will host the World Athletics Championships. The following year, Aichi Prefecture will host the Asian Games.

(This story was compiled from reports by Shuhei Nomura, Takashi Uematsu, and Hikaru Yokoyama.)

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