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Friday, July 6, 2012

Top exec turns volunteer in 2020 bid


When Masato Mizuno was asked to choose between leading his global sporting goods empire or Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, he did not hesitate for a second.

News photo
Career switch: Masato Mizuno, ex-chairman of sporting goods giant Mizuno Corp. and now CEO of Tokyo's 2020 Olympic Games committee, attends a news conference in the capital March 30. AFP-JIJI

Even though it entailed walking away from the company founded by his grandfather in 1906 and working voluntarily on no salary, Mizuno, 69, said his sense of patriotism prevailed.

He relinquished his post as Mizuno Corp. chairman last September to become CEO of Tokyo's Olympic bid committee, and says he has no regrets.

"I'm maybe one of the patriotic (people) who have been involved in the sports industry and sports," the U.S.-educated Mizuno said.

"Now I believe I have to return (the favor) to the country," he said in fluent English during a recent dinner with foreign sportswriters.

Mizuno said he felt "sad" when Rio de Janeiro was selected over Tokyo, Chicago and Madrid in late 2009 as host city for the 2016 Summer Games.

The stinging disappointment from that failed bid is what drove Mizuno, a vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee since 2007, to attempt to resuscitate Tokyo's dream.

"We've learned a lot from the last bid," he said, adding his team will hone its presentation skills to ensure it "makes no mistakes" when the International Olympic Committee picks the 2020 host from three candidate sites — Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul. The IOC vote will take place in September 2013 in Buenos Aires.

But as the head of one of the official suppliers to the IOC, he was asked by the Olympics' governing body to choose between his corporate job and a post on the Tokyo 2020 committee to avoid any "conflict of interests."

"Instantly I said, 'OK, I'll work for the country,' " he explained. "I'm 100 percent off any activity (related to) the company.

"I work as a volunteer, no salary or nothing. But we must win the bid!"

After giving up the helm at the shoes, clothing and equipment manufacturer, Mizuno left the company in the hands of his younger brother, Akito, 62, who is not one of its major shareholders, according to the firm's latest financial report.

The biggest stakeholder in the firm, which started life as a small sundries store in Osaka, is Mizuno Sports Promotion Foundation, a public interest entity chaired by Akito Mizuno. The elder Mizuno is not on its board.

Mizuno has been to every Olympics since the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, where he worked as a "helper" for the Japanese women's volleyball team that ultimately won gold. In 2001, he was given the IOC's highest award, the Olympic Order, for his unstinting support and assistance to the global movement.

The bespectacled Mizuno said he fell in love with the Olympics while watching the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Games, adding the patterns created by a squadron of military jets over Tokyo's National Stadium would live in his memory forever.

"Blue skies with the Olympic rings," he said. "I never forget."

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