Tokyo withdraws 2020 Olympics logo after plagiarism allegations

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The organising committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has reportedly withdrawn the design for the event's logo amidst copyright controversy.

Japanese broadcaster NHK announced that the Olympic committee has made the decision to retire the design, and will be holding an emergency meeting to determine how to proceed.

The logo by Japanese graphic designer Kenjiro Sano has been dogged by accusations of plagiarism since it was unveiled on 24 July 2015.



Belgian designer Olivier Debie claimed Sano had copied a logo he originally created in 2013 for the Théâtre de Liège, highlighting similarities between the two logos in a Facebook and Twitter post.

Both logos feature prominent graphic circles, as well as a central stem and top and bottom serifs borrowed from T and L letterforms.

The games' organisers announced that Sano's design was based on the T in Tokyo, tomorrow and team, while Debie's combines the letters T and L from Théâtre and Liège.

Despite his logo not being a registered trademark, Debie last month threatened the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo games organisers with legal action if the logo wasn't withdrawn.

Tokyo 2020 marketing director Hidetoshi Maki originally stated: "Their logo was not a registered trademark, so there is absolutely no problem."



Sano himself was adamant that Debie's claims were "groundless", and refuted all accusations of plagiarism.

"I take a lot of time with every design, nurturing them like children," the designer claimed. "So for this kind of talk to emerge is really unfortunate and kind of sad."

"I was shocked and found it hard to accept, to be honest," he added. "But I've never been to Belgium, nor seen the logo even once."

The games organisers also emphasised that both of the emblems had been put through a stringent verification procedure.

"Prior to the announcement of the emblem, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 conducted extensive research on trademark protections internationally," they said in a statement. "We did not identify any particular issues through the thorough process and then became confident about releasing the emblem."

Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics logos
Sano's Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics logos have reportedly been withdrawn

In the wake of concerns about the logo, new accusations have also now emerged that Sano submitted third-party photos alongside his logo materials, which he used without permission.

The committee has reportedly interviewed Sano, and will cease use of both the Olympics and Paralympics logo immediately.

It's the second round of controversy for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with the Japanese prime minister scrapping Zaha Hadid's stadium design in July, as a result of spiralling costs. The architect has now launched a campaign to reinstate the design.

The London 2012 Olympics logo, created by brand consultancy Wolff Olins, also found itself at the centre of debate, appearing on the front pages of British newspapers amidst claims its accompanying video was inducing epilepsy attacks.

  • nunuo

    Best decision, honestly. If the people don’t support it, the government shouldn’t either. They said they will hold an open competition, and I hope that even regular citizens can submit designs and possibly vote on their own for the logo they want.

    • A crowdsourced competition to then be voted on would have to be the worst possible way to come up with a replacement. Nothing good could possibly come of it.

      The people might not “support it”, but they’ve only seen a one-minute video and two jpegs. An Olympic brand is far far far more than that (see London 2012, which was actually very successful once rolled out, despite the initial reaction to the logo).

      • El Kabong

        Good god. Crowdsourcing? When is someone seriously going to tell these guys that “crowdsourcing” design sites have zero to do with real crowdsourcing. Wait until these peeps have to earn a living, exhausted by sleeping on a futon and tire of ramen noodles. Wait until they have to learn how to write a proper creative brief and manage a client’s expectations.

        And make a profit. And do good work.

  • James

    It’s starting to look as though Japan cannot organise a major event. Weak, reactionary decisions.

    • k0n

      My thoughts exactly, although I suspect there might have been pressure from IOC though?

      The logo is not a plagiarism, it is not bad, so no reason to withdraw it. This only shows weakness.

      I have mixed reactions about the stadium, as I don’t particularly like Hadid’s design, but ZHA has a lot of points in its defence of the project.

    • apolo

      Most Japanese people see this as a result of corruption. This logo designer has friends in the panel judges, and his brother is sitting on a influential posts in government. The contractor for the stadium seems to have a tactic for raising the price after the bidding is over.

      • k0n

        Oh, that gives it a slightly different look (the corruption angle). Good to know.

        • 123

          I am Japanese, but I don’t see this as a result of the corruption.The reason why Sano withdrew the logo was just that he and his family have been terribly harassed by netizens with slanders including rumours.

          • k0n

            Also a valuable piece of information, giving a bit more context. This story is hard to follow with very little detail seeping through to global media, unfortunately.

      • Samurai

        Yes, it’s corrupt all the way. This logo competition cost 60 million USD and no one’s explaining where the money went. Furthermore, the Japanese media hasn’t talked about it; not a word on Kyuichiro Sano. We use private BBS to exchange the info. The BBS once banned this name to write. The bureaucrat could’ve pressured it. He is in here: http://nes.jane.or.jp/en/speaker

  • JS Paris

    All these Tokyo 2020 scrapping sagas are becoming a joke now. Perhaps they will scrap themselves as host eventually.

  • H-J

    Why would the Tokyo Olympics be based on the letters T and L / a half swastika? That doesn’t make any sense to me. I really don’t believe the Japanese designer copied a logo for a Belgian theatre for a global sporting event. That said, I think the Tokyo logo is very weak and it seems the organisers use this weird copyrights issue to get a better design.

    • El Kabong

      Agreed. Entirely weak design.

  • Dylan Halpern

    On the use of third-party images without permission for the purposes of presentation to client or proposal of design, it seems like this is not really that noteworthy. I’ve seen any old Google image snagged for a PDF to the client a huge number of times, if that is what they mean ‘submitted alongside his logo materials.’

    • It seems a weird thing to kill the work over. It’s a no-no, certainly, but a relatively minor one. In this case, it was apparently using a photo of Narita Airport that was owned by NHK as the base of a mockup to show how some banners might look.

  • Hello

    Style can change in five years.

  • Guest

    It’s quickly turning into a bad joke. Get a grip on the situation Japan.

    • from Japan

      Thank you guys. This is much deeper than that. There are some mysterious things that happened.

      1) Judge members were supposed to spend two days to decide who should win this competition but all of the judges wore the same clothes on the first day photo and second day photo. It was very weird to see; not some of them, ALL of THEM wore the SAME clothes in two straight days, including two female judges.

      2) We never see any second place or third place work. The only work we’ve seen so far is Mr. Sano’s work, which was the winner at that time.

      3) What the judge did was weird. Instead of choosing the second place or others, they asked Mr. Sano to modify to meet what they are looking for and the chief judge give him advice.

      4) Have you ever seen the video teaser about this logo on Youtube? It was like a high-school student’s summer project, or worse. It just shows the world that we can only do a crappy job, which is not true. Have you guys ever seen any competition like this?

      After all of them and something as you already know, many people got really mad at this system and stared to investigate them withdrawing this Olympic logo.

      So far, many media companies in Japan is controlled by some forces, you know what I mean. If possible, please do some investigation and uncover more story to the world. Thank you.

      • k0n

        Is there any coverage/analysis of this (even in Japanese) that you would call half-decent? I’d love to see a bit more detail on that.

        • Other Japanese

          As example for “some forces”, in many forums, even writing the name of Sano kenjiro and some related persons is censored. And search results for Sano Kenjiro is deleted drastically, now the problem with him has disappeared “on the internet”.

  • El Kabong

    Since day one I found this to be convoluted, almost like a modern version of Memphis furniture from the 80s, which is loathsome to begin with.

    Conceptually, it is a mess, if not schizophrenic in its essence. A study in logo design that instead manifests as a collage, or something a mad scrapbooker on psychedelics might sling together. The original design only works slightly better because it’s B/W. Next?

  • aadddf

    This is no longer just a problem about plagiarism. Now, on the internet, search results for Sano Kenjiro was deleted drastically.

    So it is impossible to write the name of Sano Kenji and some other related person in many forums. That is the suppression of speech. What is worse, there is a
    possibility that the government and the mass media have a part in this. Sano Kyuichiro, elder brother of Kenjiro, is the official in the of Ministry of Economy.

    Also, Sano Soichiro, one of his relatives, is president of JSC, which relates to issues of National Stadium. There is a suspicion that advertising agencies are involved in this problem, which is influential with the media in Japan as well.

    It’s not too much to say that Olympic logo has already been decided in secret. Sano Kenjiro is now keeping out of sight, not making an apology for those problems. Although many similar works were disclosed, he denied plagiarising. This is a reality. We cannot deal with the problem anymore in Japan. I want people all over the world to know this.

    • oreetuh

      I never realised how connected all of this is. I’m wondering whether the removal of the emblem signifies a change within the organising committee. Even though it’s not really in their culture to do so, the Japanese people should be speaking out about this. It’s really important.

      • aadddf

        Though there is a claim to do so, all the members of committee refuse to get interviewed.The following is source for that. Also the article, which is a bit sensational though, says Sano Kenjiro is closely connected with member of selection committee and they might have judged each other.

        http://netgeek.biz/archives/47886

        • 111

          Netgeek is full of gossip, not so worthy that people over the world should know. I think the series of the slanders with little substance itself (including you) led to scrapping the logo.

  • For a global event logo, surely they had a full search done before going ahead with logo? This is a big mistake in not fully researching the logo design and paying trademark lawyers to conduct search. Perhaps this is the issue in logo design competitions?