TOKYO — Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda announced Tuesday that he will step down at the end of his term in June, in the face of corruption allegations that have cast a shadow over the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
French prosecutors placed Takeda under formal investigation in December onsuspicion that he paid a bribe to help secure Tokyo’s bid to hold next year’s Summer Olympics.
Takeda, who was president of the 2020 bid committee, said at a Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board meeting Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in June and that he will resign from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“I am extremely sorry for causing the trouble for the public,” he said at a news conference. “For the future of the JOC, it is appropriate for me to leave and have a new young leader, who will shoulder the next generation, take over and pave [the] way for the new era.”
But Takeda denied breaking the law.
“I don’t believe I’ve done anything illegal,” he said, vowing to keep trying to prove his innocence, and defending his decision not to step down immediately. “It pains me to have created such a fuss, but I believe it is my responsibility to serve out the rest of my term.”
French authorities have spent years investigating corruption in athletics as well as the bidding and voting process surrounding the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the Tokyo 2020 Games.
They have questioned Takeda in Paris over a payment of 230 million yen ($2.1 million) to Black Tidings, a Singapore company, that they suspect was part of an effort to win support from African countries for Tokyo’s bid.
Some of the money is thought to have been channeled to Papa Massa Diack, a Senegalese marketing executive and the son of Lamine Diack, a former head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), both of whom are the subject of various French corruption investigations.
Takeda, 71, has maintained that the money was paid for legitimate consultancy work.
However, criticism of his lack of candor mounted in Japan after he held a seven-minute news conference in January in which he denied the charges but declined to take questions.
Takeda, a great-grandson of Japan’s Emperor Meiji, competed as a show jumper at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics and has held the chairmanship of the JOC, a largely honorary position, since 2001.
In January, Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper said authorities should try to regain a positive image for the Games by exhaustively investigating the charges and explaining the situation. “They must not allow the suspicion to pour cold water on the run-up to the Olympics,” the paper said.
But Takeda’s departure and denial of illegality appear unlikely to wash away a scandal that has dampened enthusiasm for the Games.
“Those working for the Games including the IOC are hoping to make a fresh start with a clean image by renewing the board,” said Mitsushige Tsuruno, an independent media consultant and commentator. “And yet, he is resigning without giving us any explanation to clear the doubt about his involvement. That will make it even more difficult to dispel our mistrust.”
Tsuruno added: “Up to now, we don’t know what he really knows, and what he does not know. We’ve been left in the dark, and still remain so.”
Nobuo Gohara, a former prosecutor who runs his own law firm, also has been critical of the way the JOC has dealt with the allegations against Takeda.
“What’s important is that his resignation alone will never clear the doubt over the Tokyo’s bid for the Games,” he wrote on his blog Tuesday morning before the expected announcement. “The fundamental problem is ‘inaction’ on the part of the Japanese government and the JOC.”
Japan conducted its own supposedly independent investigation of the charges in 2016. It took just four months to exonerate Takeda, but Gohara said the inquiry lacked credibility.
Takeda also serves on Tokyo 2020’s executive committee, but it was unclear whether he would be stepping down from that role. The IOC’s ethics commission has opened an ethics file on Takeda, who was chairman of the organization’s marketing commission.
The Asahi Shimbun reported that the IOC had quietly pressured the JOC to force Takeda out.