TOKYO • Tsunekazu Takeda, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), yesterday confirmed he would step down in June, as French authorities probe his involvement in payments made before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Games.
"Considering the future of the JOC, the most appropriate thing is to leave things to a new leader from the next generation so that they can host the Olympics and carve a new era," he announced at a meeting of the body in Tokyo.
Adding that his decision had "nothing to do with the investigation", Takeda also revealed he would be stepping down from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The 71-year-old, who has headed the IOC's marketing commission since 2014, has come under pressure not to seek an additional term when his current mandate ends in June. He was indicted in France for "active corruption" linked to the 2020 Olympic Games bid.
Current JOC rules require candidates for the top post to be 70 or younger at the time of their candidacy, but there had been rumours the committee was considering a change to allow him to stay on through to next year.
In recent months, however, the investigation into Takeda has become an unwelcome distraction for organisers of the Games.
But the long-serving chief, who has been in his post since 2001, has denied any involvement in corruption and again protested his innocence yesterday.
He told reporters: "As I have said, I did not do anything wrong. I will continue to make an effort to prove my innocence."
In January, it was revealed that he was facing a judicial process in France over two payments totalling S$2.8 million, and were made before and after the IOC voted for Tokyo to host the Games.
The two tranches, labelled "Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game Bid", were made by a Japanese bank to Black Tidings, a Singapore-based firm linked to Papa Massa Diack.
The Senegalese is the son of the former head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Lamine, and is also embroiled in a bribery scandal.
Despite claiming he was never involved in any "decision-making process" and the money was legitimate reimbursement for "a consultancy contract", Takeda has been placed "mis en examen" - a legal step that roughly translates as being charged.
While that does not automatically trigger a trial, it means that prosecutors believe there is strong or corroborated evidence of wrongdoing.
According to Japanese media, former Olympic judo champion Yasuhiro Yamashita and Japan Football Association president Kozo Tashima could be in line to take over from Takeda.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS