018 An investigation for what? What is the purpose of the investigation – vol.1

On November 30, I declined a review request made by the Organizing Committee. Actually, all along, I had been thinking I should be part of the review. I considered it was a matter of taking responsibility as a member of the selection committee. Even before the request was made, as soon as the organizing committee decided to withdraw the Olympic logo, I felt it would be well-advised to conduct an internal review. In fact I was quietly urging the official of the organizing committee to launch one. I made my position clear. Yet I declined to take part in the review. I am sure an explanation is in order. In the following few chapters including this segment, I would like to give an account of what happened—starting with the request, up to my decision to decline—and  explain the reasons why I made the decision. Along the way, I will give my thoughts on the review itself.

On October 29, 2015, I received an email from a certain official from the risk management department of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020) secretariat, requesting my cooperation for an internal review. On the same day I sent my consent with the words: “Please feel assured, as a judge who was on the panel for selecting of the Olympic emblem during the previous round, I am ready to give my full cooperation”. Then, after I accepted the request, I found a public news article regarding the review on the internet. When I read the piece I discovered a few items regarding the upcoming review that were not revealed in the email, which made me uneasy. According to the news article, it was possible to decline a hearing request and the review itself was non-binding—thus, the article concluded, it was doubtful whether it was possible to get to the bottom of the matter, nor if any disciplinary action could be taken, even if the review uncovered irregularities in the judging process (October 29, 2015, Nikkan Sports News digital online edition). So, in effect, according to the article, the review was not enforceable. I found the names of the external evaluators who would be in charge of the review. Their respective job titles were given in order to show their specific fields of expertise. Though I had been told the review would be conducted by external review specialists, I discovered the name of a judge who was on the Olympic emblem selection committee. The policy regarding the review, the contents it would encompass, the names of the external review specialists were surely integral pieces of information that should have been revealed when I was asked to partake in the internal review, at the time the request was made. I realized the vagueness of the request, the lack of concrete information, only after I read this news report on the internet, an article released by the media. If such valuable information regarding the review was already revealed to the press, I am sure these were matters that had already been decided upon, at the time I received the review request. Then why couldn’t they have told me about the contents of the review; why not tell me the important information at the time of the request. The intentions of the organizing committee remained a mystery to me. On November 1, I asked that they send me an official request to take part in the review, and give me detailed information, in writing; I also informed them that in the meanwhile, I would like to withdraw my consent to take part in the review, until I finish going over the official documents upon their receipt, and fully understand the main purpose and the methods of the review.

Through the numerous exchanges I had with the organizing committee regarding the Olympic emblem issue, I have come to realize the rigidity of their methods—in short, it never wavers. Nothing is expressed clearly in definite words; it is an endless exchange of vague words and expressions. It requires a tremendous amount of energy to decipher the meaning of these messages, compared to a regular, straightforward give and take. Ultimately, the transaction leave me with an uncomfortable sense of frustration.

In the email I received from the official of the organizing committee requesting my participation in the review, the wording goes like this: (…) As for the organizing committee, through the internal review conducted so far, we feel we have managed to supervise the submitted works properly and maintained anonymity at the judging session in a fair manner (…) Through this internal review we hope to dispel all doubts against the organizing committee. (…).  These very words go to show that, even before the official investigation has begun, the organizing committee has already reached its own decision. Are these appropriate words to be uttered pre-review? I cannot contain my doubts. If I take these words at face value, and if the real object of the review by the organizing committee is to dispel all doubts against the organizing committee, and if self-protection is really the prerequisite for the whole review, we can already see where the review is going to take us. Unless the reviewer and the reviewee cast away notions of self-defense and self-preservation, the results derived from the upcoming review will be meaningless. I tried to question the purpose of implementing an internal review led by the organizing committee. In order to figure out what the review was for, I repeatedly asked questions and tried to identify the principles behind the review and confirm the methods to be taken—I am afraid, to no avail. I just could not understand the purpose nor meaning of conducting such a review. The bottom line is I felt I could not be held responsible for the outcome—thus I decided to say no to the review request.

In my mind, the purpose of an internal review, in its original sense, should be to investigate the cause and get to the bottom of a problem; and once the cause is defined, those who are found accountable should take responsibility; and after taking time for reflection, should make sure to prevent the same problems from recurring. For this process, a proper research procedure must be implemented. At this time, the organizing committee proposed an extremely short review period of merely a month. The method proposed was a complete charade. On paper, a team of external evaluators would be brought in. Yet it was apparently the organizing committee that was running its own show. Furthermore, the review method was going to be a voluntary hearing from persons related to the issue, only. How was such an all-too-easy survey, stacked with multiple players with personal and corporate interests and subsequent hidden agendas, going to help shed light on the Olympic emblem problem? It was truly unrealistic. People were going to be asked to trace their faint memories and go over events that had taken place over a year ago. Who was going to guarantee the credibility of such a hearing? In regards to this issue, I would like to make another point. In addition to the respondents to the survey, who were the actual players, there were plenty of people who were involved in the event. I don’t think enough consideration was given in selecting the list of people for the hearing. I feel that it may be prudent to take statements from people who can afford to take an objective view, rather than hearing from the people who were involved in the thick of things. That way it is possible to get more factual evidence. I am sure that there is plenty of physical evidence and records that can be mined for facts, including paperwork and emails. Patiently stacking physical evidence, piece by piece, is definitely going to be a more credible method. Isn’t this the method that should be employed? When I contemplated such things, I could not help thinking that the purpose of the review was not directed towards investigating the cause, getting to the root of the problem and finding a solution. The organizing committee maintained that a voluntary hearing would suffice—I could not agree less. Maybe, when I get to see the results and read the final review report I will see what the organizing committee had in mind as to the true purpose of the review.

I looked up the word “voluntary” in the dictionary. I found the definition: “done or given willingly, without being forced; proceeding from one's free choice.”

Keiko Hirano

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.