Preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics sank deeper into trouble on Monday when the president of Toyota abruptly stepped down from the games’ main organising committee.
The resignation of Akio Toyoda, whose company has taken an unprecedented $1bn marketing bet on becoming one of the biggest corporate sponsors of the Olympics, followed renewed speculation that the cost of hosting the event in Tokyo may spiral to over six times the original Y300bn ($2.5bn) estimate.
The claims of the spiralling costs were first reported by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK at the weekend and if true would make the Tokyo Olympics even more expensive than the £8.77bn cost of hosting the London 2012 games.
People close to the decision said Mr Toyoda’s move arose from a possible conflict of interest between his roles on the organising committee and as head of the business federation’s main Olympic lobbying group.
Mr Toyoda’s departure is the latest setback for an organising panel that has been forced, through scandal and public outrage, to tear-up plans for a new national stadium, scrap the Tokyo logo over plagiarism claims and abandon the bid pledge of being the “compact games” by hosting some events hundreds of miles from the capital.
The central Tokyo site where the national stadium is to be built remains a weed-grown expanse of emptiness as organisers weigh two newly-submitted designs by Japanese architects. The design originally chosen, by the British architect Zaha Hadid, was dropped in July in response to estimates that it would cost almost twice the Y130bn originally envisaged. The delay means the new stadium would not be completed by 2019, when Japan is due to host the Rugby World Cup.
Within the past few days the Japanese government and the Tokyo metropolitan administration reached a truce in a long-running row over who should pay for the new national stadium which, under the new agreement, will result in Tokyo taxpayers footing about a quarter of the bill.
The resignation of Mr Toyoda is understood to be an effort by Japan’s most prominent business leader to extricate himself from a potential conflict of interest.
In addition to his role as the vice-president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, Mr Toyoda serves as chairman of the Keidanren business association’s committee on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics — a vehicle for corporate Japan to seek partnership opportunities around the Games and to lobby the Olympic organisers.
In a statement, Mr Toyoda said resigning from the organising committee would allow him to intensify “efforts to encourage the business community to actively support the delivery of the 2020 Games”.
The Toyota president, who plans to stay on as chairman of the Keidanren Olympic committee, added: “I feel it is vitally important that the organising committee and Japan’s business community further strengthen their collaborations before the Rio 2016 games.”
Mr Toyoda is expected to be replaced on the Olympics organising committee by Kazuhiro Tsuga, the president of Panasonic. Although he also sits with Mr Toyoda on the business federation’s Olympic committee, a spokesman for Tokyo 2020 said his more junior position means the risk of conflict was reduced.
As a company, Toyota’s Olympic sensitivities are high. In March this year — and on the direct orders of Mr Toyoda — the world’s biggest carmaker signed a $1bn, 10-year sponsorship deal representing its most expensive marketing campaign ever. The deal will allow Toyota to use the Olympic rings in its global advertising material from the start of 2017.
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