— Published 28 February 2023

Dentsu, star player of the Tokyo 2020 corruption scandal

The tongues are loosening and confessions are multiplying in Japan, in the corruption scandal related to the Tokyo 2020 Games. The latest actor is not the least impressive of the cast. It was not the most expected in the credits of the show.

Hiroshi Igarashi, the president and CEO of Dentsu, a global advertising and public relations giant, admitted to Tokyo prosecutors that his group was involved in rigging the bids for the test events and some of the events of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

The information is revealed by Kyodo News. The Japanese agency quotes sources “close to the case“.

Questioned at the end of last week by investigators, in the context of a voluntary hearing, Hiroshi Igarashi would have admitted that his group has actively participated, and knowingly, in the awarding of contracts for the organization of several events, before and during the event, in disregard of the rules of competition.

Prosecutors have already arrested a former Dentsu Group executive, Koji Hemmi, and the former head of operations for the Tokyo 2020 Games organizing committee, Yasuo Mori. Two senior executives of companies that benefited from the fraud have also been arrested.

Koji Hemmi and Yasuo Mori have reportedly admitted to the charges against them. The investigation is also targeting five Japanese companies accused of collaborating with Dentsu and Tokyo 2020 to win contracts without proper bidding. The five companies in question are two advertising agencies, Hakuhodo and Tokyu Agency, and three event production agencies, Cerespo, Fuji Creative and Same Two. According to sources quoted by Kyodo News, their managers also more or less admitted the facts. Only the head of Cerespo continues to deny any involvement.

The case concerns 26 rigged tenders, the majority of which were dedicated to the organization of test events for the Olympic Games. Total amount of the fraud: a little less than 4 million dollars.

Tokyo prosecutors are now considering charging Dentsu and the five other companies with violating the anti-monopoly law. The charges could come as early as this week. This would follow a formal complaint by the Japan Trade Commission.

Barring an unlikely scenario, Hiroshi Igarashi is not likely to go to jail. But the confession of Dentsu’s number 1 adds weight to an already thick file. Above all, they threaten the short-term future of the Japanese group in international sport.

Often not very visible, but very present and terribly influential, Dentsu carries a colossal weight in the Olympic movement. Historically, its entry on the scene goes back to the 1984 Los Angeles Games. A timid entry, the Japanese group was content to lend a hand to the marketing department of the organizing committee.

Since then, Dentsu has extended its influence, multiplying contracts and collaborations at all levels of the pyramid. A long-time marketing partner of the IOC, in 2015 the Japanese group obtained exclusive media rights for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games and the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games in 22 countries in the Asian zone. The agreement was also extended to the 2022 Winter and 2024 Summer Games, not yet awarded by the IOC at the time the contract was signed.

In 2014, Dentsu was declared the exclusive marketing agency for the Tokyo 2020 Games. That same year, the Japanese group extended its commercial contract with the International Association of Athletics Federations (World Athletics, then named IAAF) until 2029. The following year, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) appointed it as its exclusive marketing agency in Japan. Signed for a period of five years, the agreement gave Dentsu the mission to sell the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and its sports disciplines to Japanese companies.

Will the Japanese group and its president recover from such a scandal? Probably. But Hiroshi Igarashi’s confession and its impact on Japanese public opinion are a further blow to Sapporo’s bid for the 2030 Winter Games, which has been on hold since the end of last year.