Takuya Yamazaki is one of the most prominent Japanese sports lawyers in Japan and is a member of the LawInSport Editorial Board. Takuya is heavily involved in the development of sports law in Japan being a board member of the Japanese Baseball Players Association and a member of FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, a position held since 2009. In 2011 he became the Deputy Chairman of FIFPro Division Asia/Oceania.
In this interview, Takuya shares his views on the developing sports market in Asia and explains how 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Rugby World Cup 2019 will change sports law in Japan.
SC: I believe you’re over [in Europe] for an integrity meeting, is that correct?
TY: Yes, I’m attending the Integrity Committee of FIFPro, worldwide footballers’ union from tomorrow. I frequently come to Europe, because I’ve been working for the FIFA DRC (Dispute Resolution Chamber), and many others, for example UNI World Athletes, and committees of FIFPro.
SC: That’s fantastic. Well thanks joining me today for the interview. It appears, at least from my perspective sitting here in London that the Asian sports market is growing and increasingly getting more sophisticated. We’ve got a stream of people we should talk about here, that are involved in it. From your perspective, being based out in Japan, how have you seen the Asian market developing at the moment? What are some of the key things that are going on?
TY: That’s a really great question. Actually, the economy in Asian countries is growing, so it is obvious that the sports business or sports industry is also growing and at the same time we have to think about the management level of the sport’s governing bodies in Asia because some of the - I’m not pointing out particular names, but if you look at the Asian sports governing bodies, many of them are struggling with getting good management people. The problem we are facing is how to realize good governance in sports and how to make a sustainable business model in Asian sports. As you know, we have been succeeding in getting the big sports events like the Beijing Olympics, and of course Tokyo 2020, and the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and also Winter Olympics in 2018 in PyeongChang. We’ve got a lot of mega sports events, but at the same time we have to raise the level of management, especially in each sport’s governing body. We have experienced a lot of scandal in Japan. For example, if you look at the Japanese judo governing body, or Japanese professional baseball, they have all experienced massive scandals in relation to their management; so raising the management level is crucial to develop the Asian sports market.
SC: And do you see there being an improvement? Even though there are scandals developing, have you seen an incremental increase over time in the professionalism and hopefully reduction of these scandals?
TY: Yes, that’s a really great question. The Japanese government, in looking at the Tokyo 2020 or the Rugby World Cup 2019, has created some kind of guidelines to realize good governance in sports. We have learned a lot from European countries or European practice in realizing good governance in sports. Most European countries have some kind of criteria or standards that all sport’s governing bodies have to obey or follow. We are doing the same to improve our sports management. Right now it has been really improving.
SC: That’s fantastic. I know that you are heavily involved in research and knowledge sharing activities. I’ve learned that you are part of an expert group for the Tokyo Games. Could you explain what your role is within that group and how that feeds into the whole structure within the organizing committee for the Games?
TY: Yeah, thank you for asking that question. The expert group, or the Sustainable Group of 2020 was established last December. I am a member of the expert group and what we are doing is to make a draft of commitments that Tokyo’s organizing committee has to disclose to the public. We, as an expert group, have learned a lot from the London 2012 Olympics, where the Sustainable Sourcing Code worked very well. We drafted the suggested statement in March of this year and we asked for public comments and we got a lot of reactions from the NGO’s, companies and universities on what is important, what is needed, to realise sustainability for Tokyo 2020.
SC: You kindly sent me a link a few days back, on this point, which we discussed over lunch. You would call it legacy, sustainability, and it’s not just about the environment or economics, some of the points include: safety, infrastructure, health, law, ‘knowledge sharing’ platforms, guidelines and so forth. That is quite a comprehensive agreement to read into. How do you go about [researching] that and what is the structure that information is then fed into and [how is it] agreed before you can deliver a public statement given that the games are so far away?
TY: Well, obviously the Tokyo Organizing Committee has to make a lot of contracts with the constructors and the suppliers and the sponsors and licensees. In doing so, first of all, Tokyo’s Organizing Committee has to create some kind of commitment to realize sustainability in Tokyo 2020. If you look at the practice in London 2012, the Sustainable Sourcing Code worked very well. They had a dispute resolution system on this and by establishing the Sustainable Sourcing Code, all the suppliers and sponsors were expected to obey the policy or philosophy or basic principles stipulated. Tokyo’s organizing committee is going to do the same kind of thing. Before doing that we, as a third party working group, will make suggestions, and in order to do this, we drafted the draft statement and asked for public comment.
SC: You talk about the dispute resolution process. How does that traditionally work in Japan? I mean from both a commercial perspective and then some in sports – such as within football or baseball?
TY: Wow, it’s a really great and broad question; it is a little bit difficult to answer your question. Generally speaking, Japanese people are not used to fair dispute resolution systems. Of course we have a normal court system and of course we have an arbitration system, but if you look at the Japanese sports industry, we don’t have a kind of established dispute resolution system. But in 2003, the JSAA (Japanese Sports Arbitration Agency) was established. The number of cases brought to JSAA is increasing these days, so JSAA is growing and that means that sports people in Japan are getting used to the dispute resolution system in sports.
SC: Forgive me for being naïve about this - is this because the athlete is reluctant to upset their employer? Or are they not aware of their rights? Or why is that? I know that you’ve written for us in the past on a whole variety of different issues, but particularly around the student [sports] movement in Japan and the NCAA in America - what is the issue for us here? It seems like a foreign concept not to complain if your rights are being infringed on or if you’ve got a dispute of some sort with your employer?
TY: Yeah, so we have to distinguish the two issues. We were talking about the dispute resolution system in the Sustainable Sourcing Code of Olympics. This is a very different kind of system from ordinary dispute resolution system regarding a player contract or something like that. If you look at the dispute resolution system for labor contracts like, internationally, FIFA DRC or something like that, we don’t have a fair dispute resolution system. If you look at the baseball arbitration, basically all of the arbitrators are selected by the management, and it’s not impartial, so we cannot expect a fair decision.
Also, even though the Japanese Football Federation was mandated by FIFA to establish a national dispute resolution system like FIFAs, they haven’t implemented the obligations so we have no impartial dispute resolution system in relation to Japanese domestic football contracts. So that is the situation in Japan. But if we establish, for example, a dispute resolution system based on Sustainable Sourcing Code of Tokyo 2020, people will look at how it works or the general practice in foreign countries, especially European countries. They will find the benefits or the strong points of those kinds of systems. I massively expect the new dispute resolution system, which is expected to be established by 2020 will work well and will be a kind of stimulant for a fairer system in the sports industry.
SC: That is really exciting. It must be great to be part of something that can actually effect change.
TY: Yes, I’ve seen a lot of the development over the last 20 years. I have been involved in the Japanese sports industry for about 20 years. In the late 1990s, I didn’t expect a fair dispute resolution system in Japanese sports. All of the dispute resolution was really manipulated.
SC: How did you deal with that? As you said, you’re pushing forward for these fair and transparent systems, how did you operate in a system where you know that you the body you are to appear before is not impartial and have already made their decision? Surely that has to have been quite challenging to deal with?
TY: So looking at the history over the last 20 years, one of the biggest changes was that the players started thinking about their rights or their environment - real environment - compared to the European practices or the practices in the United States. Taking the example of baseball, in the United States or in Major League Baseball, they have good arbitration systems and in many of the cases, players won against the club in relation to the amount of salary, but we have no such system. Many of the players became aware of the difference. They started thinking about how they could make a progress to get a better environment in relation to players’ rights. That’s why we have made big progress over the last 15 years. We did the strike in 2004, Japanese baseball players were brave enough to fight against the baseball owners. This all comes down to raising and increasing awareness of the players.
SC: The next step forward then, to put together this [sustainability] proposal. Hopefully, what you are doing is going to have wide reaching effects over a long period – obviously it’s going to be a slow process. What does the World Cup and the Tokyo games mean for you as a sport lawyer then? We’ve got these mega events, or major events now.
TY: That is a great question. I have had many meetings with people involved in London 2012 and many people told me that they used the London Olympics as a good platform to realize good governance in the UK. Obviously, we have to use this opportunity with the Rugby World Cup in 2019, Tokyo Olympics 2020 as a good opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of realizing good governance in sports and sustainability at these kinds of mega sports events. We [in Japan], as hosts of Tokyo 2020, have an obligation to make a good precedent, which many of the other Asian countries will follow. It is a really exciting job and I am really excited about it. We have to learn from the experiences of the London Olympics, and after the Rio Olympics we will investigate what happens there. Based on such kinds of knowledge, we will definitely have to do the best Olympics ever!
SC: I wish you all the success, kind of! I don’t really want you to be better than London. But it would be great. It sounds like it really is a great opportunity. This is the thing - these mega/major events are really expensive, but they do, as London proved, present an opportunity to create a cultural shift, whether it’s for us, the Paralympics or the development of East London. So we share every success with that.
TY: Absolutely. Right now, July 2015, we have a big problem regarding the new, national stadium. The budget has been massively increased, so many people are complaining about that. We have seen a lot of the demonstrations in Brazil, or in South Africa, so we have to think about what mega sports events can do for society. In light of this, we have to be very careful in determining how much we can spend for this kind of mega sports event and what would be the legacy after the Olympics. That is why we, as an expert group, have been working very hard on studying the practice in London 2012 as we have to have a sustainable Olympics and we have to seriously think about the good legacy of Tokyo 2020.
SC: That is a good challenge, but it’s not an easy puzzle to fix. I think you are the man for the job, so I wish you all the success. I look forward to getting future updates on how that is progressing and your research. I have no doubt we will be talking about other key issues in Japanese sports but also broadly about Asian sports.
TY: Of course. Asia is a really big and diverse region and the good thing is that diversity, which we have, makes us more favorable, tolerant, kind, respectful to other cultures. That would be the strengths of the Asian people. I’m not criticizing other people. I really respect European and American people, but what we can do for all of the world is respect the diversity. Sports are a good platform to raise awareness of respecting diversity. I, as a representative of Asian people, will work very hard to realize a sustainable Olympics and for a better society, where all people respect others, other cultures or different practices.
SC: I don’t think anyone would argue with that; that’s a great objective. It’s the power of sports and other platforms as well - it can do that. Thank you so much for your time. I am very much looking forward to the next time we get to meet up when you’re back over. Thank you so much; it was very insightful, as always. I’m sure that many of our listeners and the people reading the article or the transcript of the interview will no doubt find this extremely insightful. I think it’s one of those. Hopefully we can do more Asian sports; we’ve talked about this before because I believe there is a very European-centric - at least you would expect and hope - there really is a European-centric focus. I think there are some really exciting things going on in Asia, in Japan, and I think its often overlooked, which is something hopefully we can shed some light on.
TY: It was my pleasure.
**A special thank you to Yasmin Hosseini of Pepperdine University, School of Law, for her excellent work transcribing this interview.
- Asia Baseball FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber FIFPro Football Japan Japanese Football Federation (JFF) Japanese Sports Arbitration Agency (JSAA) Judo London 2012 Major League Baseball (MLB) Olympic Paralympics Regulation Rugby World Cup 2019 Sustainable Group of 2020 Tokyo 2020 Uni World Athletes