Japan kitmaker turns bid volunteer

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

Despite the fact that he would have to walk away from the firm set up by his grandfather in 1906 and work voluntarily with no salary, Mizuno said a sense of patriotism made the decision an easy one.

The former company chairman stepped down last September from the firm, which started life as a small sundries shop in Osaka, to become chief executive officer of Tokyo's bid committee -- and says he has no regrets whatsoever.

"I'm maybe one of the patriotic (people) who have been involved in the sports industry and sports," the affable 69-year-old said.

"Now I believe I have to return (a favour) to the country," the US-educated Mizuno told a recent dinner with foreign sportswriters in English.

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

It was the stinging disappointment of losing the bid that drove Mizuno -- a vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee since 2007 -- to help revive Tokyo's Olympic dream.

Now he and his campaign team will go to Britain shortly to press their case at the London Games.

"We've learned a lot from the last bid," he said, adding that his team would polish their presentation skills to "make no mistakes" when the IOC chooses the 2020 host from among Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul in September next year.

But as the boss of one of the official suppliers to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) he was asked by the Olympics world governing body to choose between his corporate job and a post on the bid committee to avoid any "conflict of interests".

"Instantly I said, 'Okay, I'll work for the country,'" he said. "I work as a volunteer. No salary or nothing. But we must win the bid."

Mizuno retired from the company, leaving it in the hands of his younger brother Akito, 62, and according to the firm's latest financial report, he is not among its major shareholders.

"I'm 100 percent off any activity of the company," said Mizuno.

The biggest stakeholder in the shoes, clothing and equipment manufacturer is Mizuno Sports Promotion Foundation, a public interest entity chaired by Akito. Masato is not on its board.

The bespectacled Mizuno has been to every Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games, where he worked as a "helper" for the Japanese women's volleyball team when they won gold.

In 2001 he was given the IOC's highest award, the Olympic Order, for his support for the movement.

The businessman said he fell in love with the Olympics when he watched the 1964 Tokyo Games opening ceremony, 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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