• Kyodo News

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Toyota Motor Corp. intends to sign an official sponsorship contract with the Japan Olympic Committee to become a “gold partner” by contributing ¥600 million over four years through 2012, sources close to the matter have said.

The move flies in the face of its peers, who have withdrawn from sports investments to deal with the global economic slump. Honda Motor Co. pulled out of all Formula One activities and Nissan Motor Co. has suspended its baseball and other sports teams.

Under the JOC’s new marketing program, gold partners, who are the top-ranking official sponsors, are eligible to use images of six-time world wrestling champion Saori Yoshida and popular table tennis player Ai Fukuhara in their advertisements. These athletes have signed agreements on the use of their images with the Olympic body.

“We are studying the matter with an eye to signing a contract as a gold (partner,)” a Toyota spokesman said. “As a company based in Japan, it is important to back members of Japanese teams for the Olympics, which generates much interest among the public. We hope it will enhance the company’s favorableness rating and provide high exposure,” the spokesman said.

If the contract is signed, Toyota will become the JOC’s first gold partner.

Toyota began working with the JOC in 1989 and has renewed its official sponsorship contract each time since 1999.

Among top Olympic athletes actually employed by Toyota are two-time Olympic judo champion Ryoko Tani and former figure skating world champion Miki Ando.

Toyota has declared that it will continue participating in F1 motor sports competitions.

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