Olympics

Ollan Cassell thinks embattled JOC chief Tsunekazu Takeda should step aside in wake of French probe

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

With serious allegations of corruption and bribery linked to Japanese Olympic Committee chief Tsunekazu Takeda, a prominent member of the global sports community issued a call for Japanese authorities to sever ties with him.

Ollan Cassell believes a leadership change is needed now instead of having a dark cloud of suspicion hanging over the 2020 Tokyo Games.

“It seems to be it would be best for the Japanese to find a method to sit him aside rather than embarrass him in front of the Japanese people,” Cassell, who won a gold medal in the men’s 4×400-meter track relay at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, told The Japan Times on Friday.

On Jan. 11, multiple media outlets reported that French authorities were investigating Takeda for active corruption. It was reported that France’s National Financial Prosecutors office placed the JOC president under formal investigation on Dec. 10.

Though he has denied the allegations, the crisis appears to have altered Takeda’s normal routine, possibly for fear of being arrested in Europe.

It was reported that he wouldn’t attend the IOC’s marketing commission meeting this weekend in Lausanne, Switzerland. Takeda became head of the commission in 2014.

A Reuters report this week spelled out the seriousness of the ongoing investigation. “Under French law,” Reuters correspondent Karlos Grohmann wrote, “a formal investigation means there is ‘serious or consistent evidence’ implicating a suspect in a crime. It is one step closer to a trial, but such investigations can be dropped without going to court.”

Cassell, now 81, was a longtime executive director for USA Track and Field and also served as a vice president for the IAAF, the sports’ global governing body, before retiring. He drew parallels between the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the ongoing Tokyo 2020 crisis.

“This situation seems similar to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic scandal when payments were made by those directly involved in real decision-making surrounding the games,” Cassell, who resides in Indiana, told this newspaper.

Takeda, the JOC president since 2001, is accused of approving payments totaling $2 million to Singapore-based consulting firm Black Tidings in September 2013 to ensure African IOC members’ votes for Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Games bid (Istanbul and Madrid were also in the mix), reported the French newspaper Le Monde, which broke major details of the story, including Takeda’s indictment.

Le Monde’s reporting ties Takeda and Black Tidings to Papa Massata Diack, a son of disgraced former IAAF head honcho Lamine Diack. The Diacks are facing a corruption probe in France, while Interpol has placed the younger Diack, who also faces money-laundering charges, on its most-wanted list, according to published reports. Senegal hasn’t permitted France to extradite him to face charges.

“It appears, to me, he may have known about the payments but did not authorize them,” Cassell said of Takeda. “Therefore protecting those involved in the transactions.”

He added: “If the French do in fact indict him, my opinion will be to suspend him until the matter is settled.”

The indictment and legal issues cited above could take months or years to be sorted out.

Lamine Diack became IAAF vice president in 1999, the year that Cassell’s 23-year stint in that position ended. That November, longtime IAAF president Primo Nebiolo died and Diack succeeded him.

Above all, Cassell considers the charges a serious matter. He also pointed out that Takeda “has admitted payments were made to Black Tidings, associated with the Diacks.” But Takeda has insisted the payments were for proper business expenses.

That said, the public relations disaster that is looming over the scandal in the run-up to the 2020 Games is something Japan should find a way to avoid, according to Cassell.

“Having some understanding of Japanese culture,” Cassell said, “I find it hard for them to be faced with a scandal during the next two years.”

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