Another Olympic Logo Debacle

Tokyo 2020 Logo

I have gone on record, more than once, for my dislike of the London 2012 Olympics logo and I have banged my drum about the errors in that project before. So it comes as a surprise to have a new drum to bang about another Olympics logo.

As it happens it seems that the Japanese Olympics Committee are withdrawing the logos designed for the 2020 games in Tokyo, but not until they have had their own controversies. When the ‘new’ logo was revealed a few weeks ago I wasn’t sure that it was right for the job. Not that it was terrible, just unsuitable.

Tokyo 2020 Logo

I am strongly of the belief that a logo should reflect some idea of what it is a logo for, this is especially important for international brands and events. Despite the TV rights, the media coverage and the sponsorship the Olympics, thankfully, are still a sports event. Therefore the logo for any Olympics Games should, in some way, reflect that. It would also seem wise to reflect the culture and personality of the host nation too, at the same time, if possible.

The logo set, one for the ‘main’ Olympics and one for the Para-Olympics, takes a nod at the Japanese identity with the red circle akin to the nation’s flag. It can also be argued that the main ascender of the T reflects the vertical lettering scrolls associated with Japan, although this is a stretch. However, adding the cross piece from a stylised serif font is not in keeping with the nation or the event. In addition to this some of the elements seem to be tacked on making the logo slightly unbalanced and awkward.

Without the strangely dated lettering and Olympic rings I would have assumed, at first glance, that this was the logo of an accountants, or law firm. Second glance would have pointed to Japan, so maybe a company developing accountancy software for example. A sporting event needs to reflect the feeling and excitement of sport. Sports are fluid, full of motion, action and curves. They raise the heartbeat and are bold. Everything that this logo is not. The newly updated branding for the Europa League reflects sport in its curves and bright bold shape. Sadly the Tokyo 2020 logo does not achieve any of this.

Not that any of this matters, apparently, as they have been withdrawn as part of a plagiarism suite. Belgian graphic designer Olivier Debie claims that the Tokyo 2020 logo more than reflects his own design for the Théâtre de Liège logo, and there are indeed many similarities and I believe he has a case. Assuming that the Japanese designers had the opportunity to have seen Debie’s logo they have, in the least, been influenced by it, if not right out copied ideas directly. It is wise that the Japanese Olympic Committee have withdrawn the logo as Debie may well win this.

Theatre de Liege

That all said the saga doesn’t end here, nor even begin here. Barcelona based design agency Hey Studio, who I admire, may also have had a claim of infringement for a logo they designed previously as well. Their logo was designed for a Rebuild Japan app back in 2011 and makes use of the curved shapes in black as well as a red circle, similar to the Tokyo 2020 design. However, they have claimed that all this could be coincidence and have not pursued any claim.

Rebuilding Japan

It is possible that amid all this mess that something possible could arise. A Japanese graphic designer, based in Spain, already had a great following for his alternative design before this all broke and his design hits the mark somewhat more closely. The designs, based on Japanese fans, reflect the identity of Japan more clearly, and the colours and shapes inspire more of the excitement of sporting events. Excitement, dare we say, which may lead to the requirement of a fan to cool down? This logo I do like and could get behind.

In writing this article I got to thinking about the nature of design and ideas (especially where they come from) which will lead nicely in to the article after this one. I will ask, is it plagiarism, or did the ideas all come from somewhere else?


Information for this article came from the Creative Review and Rocket News 24.

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