National

Contested Tokyo 2020 Olympic logo scrapped amid plagiarism claim

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

In another humiliating reversal over preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the organizing committee on Tuesday scrapped the official logo after critics howled plagiarism.

The committee said it would immediately launch a competition to design a new logo but underscored that it did not decide to pull the first emblem because it believes designer Kenjiro Sano is guilty of any wrongdoing.

“We thought it might be difficult to get support from the general public” given the size that the issue has become, Toshiro Muto, director general of the organizing committee, said after an emergency meeting.

The committee said Sano requested the emblem’s withdrawal, and that he will not get paid for the design.

The contested logo, which is already widely in use in official circles and on sponsors’ materials, resembles that of a theater in Belgium. Sano has denied plagiarism, but he has faced a slew of subsequent allegations that critics said called into question the integrity of his work.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that the organizing committee made “an appropriate decision” on the matter and that the Olympics must be an event that is celebrated by everyone.

The abrupt reversal comes after Abe in July scrapped the design for a new National Stadium intended as the centerpiece of the games, following criticism of its skyrocketing estimated cost.

Adding to the logo humiliation is the fact that only last Friday the organizing committee had defended Sano. Muto told reporters that day the logo was “totally different from the Belgian theater logo” and thus he was “convinced the Olympic emblem is original.”

Moreover, the committee had said there could be no question of plagiarism because Sano had tweaked the logo subsequent to its selection, both to avoid any similarity to registered trademarks and to meet the committee’s wish that it depict movement.

There were new whisperings against Sano on Monday, when similarities were reported between images he had used when unveiling the logo and some on the Internet.

One was of a scene at Haneda airport with the logo hanging on banners, intended to show how the emblem might be used in public.

The image was apparently a copy of one from an online blog named “Sleepwalking in Tokyo.” It had been adapted to include the logo — but it had also been trimmed, removing a copyright statement at the foot of the original image.

Online critics also laid into Sano over the original form of his logo, which was shown at the news conference last Friday.

Its design of a “T” with a red circle at its foot resembled a poster at a Jan Tschichold exhibition held in November 2013 at Ginza Graphic Gallery in Tokyo. Sano had reported on Twitter that he visited the show.

The brouhaha first erupted in August, when Sano’s final design for the Olympics logo was found to resemble the “L” form of the logo of Theatre de Liege, an arts center in the Belgian city. Designer Olivier Debie alleged plagiarism and filed a lawsuit in Belgium on Aug. 13 to prevent its use by the International Olympic Committee.

Sano’s integrity was further questioned later that month when Internet users pointed out that some of his designs for giveaway tote bags in a promotional campaign by Suntory Beer Ltd. resembled pre-existing designs. The beverage company pulled the contested products at the request of Sano’s office.