Corruption Scandals Threaten Japan’s Winter Olympics Bid

Debate around the sustainability of the Olympic Games is always fierce – even moreso when it comes to the Winter Games. In 2021, the postponed Tokyo games garnered another layer of criticism in the pandemic context. And Japan’s Olympic woes have only worsened in the aftermath of their games, with corruption controversies now threatening Sapporo’s bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics.

The Tokyo Games Scandals

The corruption scandal involves two separate cases, both relating to the sponsorship of the games. In the first, major companies and individuals have been arrested for rigging contract bids for the 2020 Games. And the second has to do with former Tokyo Olympics executive Haruyuki Takahashi, who is alleged to have taken bribes from sponsors.

Japanese ad giant Dentsu was one of six companies indicted at the end of February, over the suspected rigging of bids for the games. Dentsu is a titan of the industry in Japan, controlling close to 28% of the country’s advertising market.

The company was responsible for raising a record-breaking $3.6billion in domestic sponsorship money for the Tokyo Games – three times the amount raised for London 2012, the previous record-holder. And Dentsu played a critical role in helping Tokyo win the games in the first place, back in 2013.

Other companies indicted include Hakuhodo, Cerespo, and Fuji Creative. Seven individuals were also included in the arrests. The allegations regard rigging around which companies were granted contracts for test events for the Tokyo Games. Working these pre-Olympic test events gives firms a significant leg-up in the selection process for companies working events in the Games themselves.

In response to the indictments, cities including Tokyo and Osaka have promised to ban Dentsu and their conspirators from bidding for public contracts.

Separately, ex-Tokyo Games executive Karuyuki Takahashi was arrested in December last year. It’s alleged he took bribes amounting to almost 200 million yen from companies competing to secure sponsorship rights at the 2020 Olympics.

Takahashi is a former president of ADK Holdings, Japan’s third-largest ad agency, and used to be a Dentsu executive to boot. Executives from ADK Holdings, the business suits retailer Aoki Holdings, and the publishing firm Kadokawa were also arrested.

The Future of Sapporo’s Winter Olympics Bid

Sapporo is a city in Japan’s north, with conditions proven to be perfect for the Winter Games – it was the first Asian city to host the Winter Olympics back in 1972. Its history with the Olympics also means it already has many of the necessary facilities to host again: a fact they emphasised in their bid for the 2030 Games.

But now, the recent corruption scandals have flipped public support for hosting – a poll by a regional newspaper had close to 70% of respondents say they now opposed hosting the games.

Tokyo’s corruption fallout has been troubling for the IOC too – it’s becoming harder and harder to secure hosts for the Winter Games. Cities often judge the endeavour too costly and stressful, and climate change is making consistent, good quality snow like Sapporo’s rarer.

In response to the corruption scandals, Sapporo announced a number of shorter public bidding bans on some smaller companies implicated in the indictments. It hasn’t yet confirmed whether it will work with the big companies like Dentsu and Hakuhodo, but Sapporo’s mayor has said it will be difficult to secure the necessary sponsorship without Dentsu’s support.

The IOC is set to decide the 2030 host city in October.

Cover photo by Shinnosuke Ando on Unsplash.

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