tadashi-ishii
Dentsu CEO Tadashi Ishii
Dentsu is a $15 billion company, with a 25% share of the Japanese advertising market. It’s #1 in Japan, but not dominant, at least in terms of revenue. That’s fine, because Japanese companies, even large ones, don’t like to draw too much attention to themselves.

And yet, you can argue that Dentsu has become one of the most influential sports marketing companies in the world. Currently, Dentsu represents Tokyo2020 as exclusive agent to secure Japan sponsors for the upcoming 2020 Summer Games, signing up over 40 sponsors. It represents such international sports agencies as the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the International Football Association (FIFA), the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), among many other sports organizations.

As sports marketing authority, David Cushnan, once told me, “if you are an international sports federation, or an international sports league that wants to go to Japan, then your first call is Dentsu. They can get you access.”

And as the Financial Times puts it, once you’re a client, they are so powerful it’s sometimes hard to tell who the client is. “It is not like any company in the world,” says a board member at one of Dentsu’s biggest clients. “You are the customer, but they are the master. Nobody ever says it, but over the years, you need them more than they need you. It is like an addiction.”

Dentsu may be glad to see 2016 over, however, as it was a tough year, nearly impossible to avoid the glare of the red-hot spotlight.

  • Black Tidings and AMS: In May, 2016, The British newspaper, The Guardian, revealed that a USD1.5 million payment was made in July, 2013 from a Japanese bank to an account with a person in a company called Athlete Management Services, affiliated with both the IAAF and Dentsu. This payment was prior to the vote for selection of the 2020 Olympic host city. After Tokyo was selected as the winning city in September, 2013, a second payment was made to the same account for another USD2 million.
  • Caught Overbilling: Toyota raised an alarm that they suspected Dentsu, hiding behind a notorious curtain of opaque transactional costs for online advertising, was overcharging them for ad placements. They were right. Not only that, over a 100 other companies were cheated as well, resulting in an announcement in late September, 2016 that Dentsu will reimburse an estimated 230 million yen ($2.3 million) back to customers.
  • Working Employees to the Extreme: Dentsu recently received the odious recognition being labeled the worst of the “Black Companies” in Japan. A “Black Company” in Japan is one considered a firm that blatantly exploits its employees. Much of this recognition was due to the horrible news that a first-year employee at Dentsu committed suicide. According to this article, the 24-year old woman, Matsuri Takahashi, jumped from the top of her company dormitory on Christmas Day in 2015, after working 100 hours of overtime the previous month.

Apparently, the notoriety around being considered a horrible place to work was the last straw. Dentsu’s president, Tadashi Ishii, announced last week that he would resign in March, 2017.

matsuri-takahashi-and-parents
Matsuri Takahashi and parents

Rio Medals Predictions Table

Who’s going to win the medal haul at the 2016 Rio Olympics? Today there are predictive models for everything: what film will win Best Picture at the Oscars, who will win a presidential campaign, and of course, what team will win a given sporting championship. The Olympics are also fair game.

Already, various experts and organizations have made their predictions on which nations will take home the lion’s share of the gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2016 Summer Games. As the website Topend Sports notes, the results of four well-known Olympic prognosticators have similar conclusions: The USA and China will vie for domination, while Russia, Great Britain and Germany make hay as well. In Asia, Japan is expected to do well as a prelude to the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprising, host Brazil is not expected to finish in the top ten.

But predictions are predictions – most of these based on past performance data. As the site LiveScience wrote, “there are still variables left unaccounted for.” Until recently, the Russian track and field team were considered viable participants. But on June 17, 2016, the IAAF threw the monkey wrench into the Russian dream machine by declaring the entire Russian track and field team banned from the 2016 Rio Olympics due to state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes.

At the London Olympics four years ago, Russian track and field athletes took home a total of 18 medals, of which 8 were gold. That will drop Russia’s medals chances drastically, and boost the totals of its rivals.

As Nobel Prize winning nuclear physicist, Niels Bohr, famously said, “prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

Papa Massata Diack
Papa Massata Diack

The recent allegations that payments were made in connection to the bidding process for the 2020 Olympic Games is concerning. In order to understand who, what, where, when and why, I have looked into the reports available on the internet, and have tried to put together a timeline with explanations. I have tried to include links, many of which are from The Guardian, a newspaper based in London.

It doesn’t look good.

  • Sometime between 2010 and 2014: Likliya Shobukhova, a top marathoner from Russia, had paid€450,000 in exchange for covering up doping violations. In other words, Shobukhova was extorted.
  • July 2013: A payment of €1.3 million (USD1.5 million) called “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game Bid” was sent from a Japanese bank to a bank account in Singapore, under a company called Black Tidings. The Black Tidings account is under the name of a Singaporean, Ian Tan Tong Han, who was a consultant to a company called Athlete Management Services, a company that “was set up to market and deliver the commercial rights granted to it by the IAAF“. According to the article referred to by the link, Tan was very close to Papa Massata Diack, the son of then-IAAF president and IOC leader, Lamine Diack. The article also alleges that Papa Massata Diack was part of an “informal governance system for the IAAF.”  Lamine Diack was a voting member of the IOC during the 2020 Olympic bidding process in 2013, so people can only wonder if the payments had an impact on the vote.  Additionally, French authorities are currently investigating Papa Massata’s request for USD5 million from the Qatar Olympic committee in exchange for support in their bids in the 2017, 2019 and 2021 World Athletic Championships.
  • September, 2013: On September 8, 2013, it was announced that Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
  • October, 2013: A second payment was made from Japan to the Black Tidings account, making the estimated total payment from a bank account in Japan to Black Tidings “at least US$2m (1.4m pounds)”.
  • March, 2014: An arrangement was agreed upon in which Shobukhova would accept a suspension in exchange for a “refund” of €300,000, off of the original €450,000 extortion payment, primarily because the cover up failed. This payment was made from a bank account in Singapore, listed under Black Tidings.
  • December, 2014: Diack Sr was arrested for alleged acceptance of more than €1 million in bribes to cover up doping violations. He is currently being investigated by French authorities.
  • January, 2016: The Guardian reported on the contents of leaked emails that Papa Massata Diack arranged to have “parcels” delivered to influential members of the IOC in May, 2008 in an attempt to gain support for Qatar in its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
  • May, 2016: The head of Tokyo 2020, Tsunekazu Takeda, has admitted that such payments were made to Black Tidings, but states that the payments are for legitimate services rendered. Takeda has launched in an investigation into these payments.

In other words, there is a consistent set of allegations of payments connected to Papa Massata Diack, an influential figure in international sports, to cover up illegalities or quietly provide support. The vehicle connected to Diack is a company called Black Tidings, which has been linked to the doping cover up of marathoner, Shobukhova, and the Tokyo bid for the 2020 Olympics.

These reports sadden me. What will we learn next?

Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov on 60 Minutes
Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov on 60 Minutes. Click on picture to go to video.

On May 8, CBS aired Armen Keteyian‘s interview of Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, Russians who fled to the United States after the world learned that they were the informants to a German documentary on massive state-sponsored doping of athletes in Russia. As a result of that documentary and a subsequent investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the IAAF banned Russian track and field athletes from competing in international competitions, including the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In this interview, Vitaly explained that he had surreptitiously taped a talk with Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who ran the drug-testing lab in Russia and was now in the United States as well because of what he believed was a threat to his life if he stayed. (Two of his colleagues had died unexpectedly in February according to the New York Times.) Rodchenkov said that not only was the state-sponsored doping widespread throughout the Russian government, not only were Russian athletes competing in the Summer Olympics tainted by doping, but at least four gold medal winners of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia doped.

Grigory Rodchenkov
Grigory Rodchenkov

On May 12, the New York Times released an article based on an interview with Rodchenkov, who was introduced by the producer of a documentary on Russia doping. According to the Times, Rodchenkov developed a “three-drug cocktail of banned substances that he mixed with liquor” that helped potentially dozens of Russian athletes, and that some of Russia’s biggest names in cross-country skiing and bobsledding at the Sochi Games were given this cocktail.

Rodchenkov also actively covered up the doping by ensuring tainted urine would not be tested. Here’s how the Times explained the operation:

In a dark-of-night operation, Russian antidoping experts and members of the intelligence services surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, somehow breaking into the supposedly tamper-proof bottles that are the standard at international competitions, Dr. Rodchenkov said. For hours each night, they worked in a shadow laboratory lit by a single lamp, passing bottles of urine through a hand-size hole in the wall, to be ready for testing the next day, he said. By the end of the Games, Dr. Rodchenkov estimated, as many as 100 dirty urine samples were expunged.

hole in the wall
The hole in the wall (covered by a removable cap) through which tainted urine samples were passed and replaced by clean samples during the Sochi Games, according to Dr. Rodchenkov. NY Times

The big question hanging over the Rio Olympics is whether the ban on the entire Russian track and field team would be lifted in time for competition at the Games starting on August 5. According to the CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, in the 60 Minutes piece, this new information from Rodchenkov does not bode well.

Look, it’s a stunning revelation. And if true it’s a devastating blow to the Olympic values. It’s clearly the final nail in the coffin for Russian track and field.

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How do you clean up corruption when it is perceived that all parties are steeped in it?

According to this powerful opinion piece by Juliet Macur of the New York Times, better to go with the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

She writes how the head of WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), Dick Pound, has consistently been blunt and hardline with regards to corruption in athletics, particularly as it relates to doping. (She cites in the article a hysterical quote from Pound about a famous cyclist’s testosterone levels as a case in point.) But for some reason, when it comes to the fate of IAAF leader, Sebastian Coe, Pound somehow found it in his heart to praise and support, not tear down. As Macur wrote, “What had WADA done with the real Dick Pound?”

Coe took gold in the 1500 meters in 1980 and 1984, was elected as an MP in the British Parliament, and has been a leader in the International Amateur Athletics Federation since 2007, recently becoming the head of the IAAF last August. To be honest, it’s a lousy time to be the head of the IAAF, which is under a dark cloud of suspicion.

SEbastian Coe wins gold in 1500 in Los Angeles
Sebastian Coe wins gold in the 1500 meter race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games

There are allegations of gifts made in exchange for awarding the 2019 world track and field championships to Doha, Qatar. There is the state-sponsored doping program in Russia that was conveniently ignored by the IAAF but eventually exposed by WADA, resulting in Russia’s track and field being banned from international competition, including the Rio Olympics in August. There is the suspected doping of Kenya’s runners, whose performance at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing last August was so superlative, they topped the medals tables for the first time ever.

And finally, there is Coe himself, who very reluctantly disassociated himself from his long-time paid association with Nike. The IAAF awarded the 2021 Athletics World Championships to Eugene, Oregon in the US, with apparently a formal bidding process. Oregon is definitely a hotbed for track, so Eugene’s selection is not a surprise. But Oregon is also the home to Nike. There’s no real indication that Nike, and thus Coe, had anything shady to do with the selection process. But taken all together, the IAAF is not currently a poster child for transparency and ethical decision making.

But as Macur explains, “It can be difficult to find purity at the top of international sports. In track and field, Coe, the former middle-distance star and Olympic champion, just might be the best option. He should serve his punishment for not speaking out against pervasive doping in track and field. His sentence: to clean up his dirty sport.”

Macur goes on to quote 5,000-meter runner and champion, Lauren Fleshmen as saying that Coe probably didn’t know all the corrupt things going on in the IAAF because of its

chicago blackhawks 2015 stanley cup champions

THREE – Chicago Black Hawks and Nine Olympians Take the Stanley Cup: The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4 games to 2 for their sixth NHL championship. On that Chicago team were Kimmo Timonen whose long and distinguished career included bronze and silver medals for Team Finland in 1998, 2006, 2010, 2014; Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith who won gold for Team Canada in 2010 and 2014 in Sochi, along with fellow Canadians Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook who won gold medal in 2014; Patrick Kane who won silver on the USA team in 2010; Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger, Niklas Hjalmarsson who won silver on the Swedish team in Sochi in 2014; Brad Richards Canada: who competed for Team Canada in 2006; and Marian Hossa of Slovakia who competed in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Platini and Blatter

TWO – FIFA Scandal and Ban: The FIFA Ethics Committee banned FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA head and FIFA heir apparent Michel Platini from all football-related activities for eight years, sparking hopes of greater transparency and an end to corruption and bribes which impact FIFA decisions. For a brilliant explanation of the scandal by John Oliver, all the way back in June, 2014, watch this video.

 

Russia Track Banned.jpg

ONE – Russia Track and Field Team Banned: After it was revealed that Russian athletes were illegally doping thanks to a state-run program, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decides in November to suspend the All-Russia Athletic Federation, essentially all Russian track and field athletes, from participating in international competitions, including the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics. Here is the documentary that sparked the investigation.

See this link for 13 through 15, 10 through 12, 7 through 9, and 4 through 6.

Yulia Stepanova and Vitaliy Stepanov in the ARD Documentary Geheimsache Doping Top Secret Doping
Yulia Stepanova and Vitaliy Stepanov in the ARD Documentary Geheimsache Doping Top Secret Doping

As incredible as it may sound, the entire Russian track and field team have been banned from international competition, and may be prevented from competing in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. It was announced on November 13 that Russia’s track and field federation was suspended in a 27-1 vote by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the global governing body of track and field. Not only has numerous cases of doping been uncovered, based on a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), doping appears to have been systemic, involving coaches, athletes and officials.

As the report explains, “The investigation indicates that the acceptance of cheating at all levels is widespread and of long standing. An athlete’s decision not to participate is likely to leave him or her without access to top caliber coaches and thus the opportunities to excel. This acceptance and, at times, expectation of cheating…indicate a fundamentally flawed mindset that is deeply ingrained in all levels of Russian athletics. The mindset is ‘justified’ on the theory that everyone else is cheating as well.”

WADA was prompted into action after the airing of a documentary by German broadcaster ARD called “Geheimsache Doping”, or “Top Secret Doping” in English.

Below are excerpts from the English transcript of the now-famous documentary. You can watch an English version of the documentary here.

When discus thrower, Evgenia Pwcherina is asked by a report how many athletes from the national team in Russia are doping, she replies, “Most of them. The greater part. 99%. And you get absolutely anything. Everything the athlete wants. And the shorter the period it can be detected, the more expensive the product.”

Said Oleg Popov, a Russian coach, “The athlete has no choice. Either you prepare yourself in national team with banned substances, in order to win medals which are also accredited to the Federation – the head coach, the Ministry of Sport, the Federation President, the entire Russian Athletics Federation. And, if you are unable to agree with this scheme, which they offer you, then things can move very quickly and you’re out.”

One of the first people to approach the producer of the documentary, Hajo Seppelt, was a