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Tokyo Olympic committee scraps scandal-hit logo

An employee takes down a placard with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games emblem during staged event for the media at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Tokyo on Sep 1, 2015.

[TOKYO] Tokyo's 2020 Olympics organisers on Tuesday scrapped the event's scandal-hit logo in the latest mishap for the Games after a costs furore forced plans for a US$2 billion new national stadium to be torn up.

The decision - which comes amid plagiarism claims and mounting questions about the logo designer's credibility - caps an embarrassing month for Olympic officials as the ditching of the stadium means a new showpiece may only be ready a few months before the global event.

Japanese Olympic bosses announced their decision at a hastily arranged press conference Tuesday, in a stark reversal just days after they vowed to stand behind the logo and designer Kenjiro Sano.

Officials said their decision was not in response to Belgian designer Olivier Debie's lawsuit that alleged Sano copied his work.

Instead, they pointed to slumping public confidence and evidence that Sano had improperly swiped Internet images to highlight locations where his logo could be displayed.

"We're certain the two logos are different," Toshiro Muto, director general of the Tokyo Organising Committee, said of the Belgian's plagiarism claims.

"But we became aware of new things this weekend and there was a sense of crisis that we thought could not be ignored. The reason we're withdrawing (the logo) is because it no longer has public support." Mr Sano himself has asked that his logo be pulled to avoid damaging the Tokyo Games, Muto added.

"We want to create a new emblem that represents the Tokyo Olympics and that is loved and supported by the public," he said.

Mr Debie said he would push forward with his lawsuit in a Belgian court.

"My initial reaction was to say, 'There you go, we've won.' But at their press conference, they completely beat around the bush and said they were scrapping the logo for some obscure reasons - so the case continues," he told AFP.

"Plagiarism is impossible to prove but the facts are there: the layout and the typography are virtually identical. When I see the Tokyo 2020 logo, I say to myself, that's the logo I created in 2011." There were no details on the timing of a new logo, but Mr Muto said a competition to choose another design would be held at an unspecified date.

While Mr Sano has denied copying Mr Debie's work, he has admitted that his team copied someone else's designs for work they did on a beer promotion campaign for Japanese drinks giant Suntory.

An online petition with more than 22,000 signatures has called on officials to choose another image.

Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe reacted angrily to news that the committee was going to scrap the emblem.

"This is a matter of credibility, and I want first and foremost for Mr Sano to explain this fully - I feel I have been betrayed," he told reporters earlier Tuesday.

In recent days Olympic sponsors including national carrier Japan Airlines have started using the logo in their advertising campaigns, and the changes could deal a blow to lucrative sponsorship deals.

The stadium and logo scandals have become a major embarrassment for Japan, which hosted the 1964 Summer Games.

When Tokyo beat Madrid and Istanbul to host the 2020 event, Japan's capital was widely seen as a safe choice with little chance of major delays or funding problems.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had promised "guaranteed delivery" of the world's biggest multi-sports event.

He also brushed aside concerns about the still-precarious situation at the Fukushima atomic plant after its tsunami-triggered meltdown in 2011 - the worst nuclear crisis in a generation.

Tokyo's Olympic emblem has been swept up in controversy since its unveiling in July after Debie said it copied work he had done for a Belgian theatre company.

He took the International Olympic Committee to court to block it from using the logo.

The IOC has rejected the claims and Mr Muto last week insisted they had no plans to change the logo.

Tokyo's emblem is based around the letter "T" - for Tokyo, tomorrow and team - with a red circle said to represent a beating heart.

The theatre's design features a similar shape in white against a black background.

Japanese Olympic officials are still smarting over the national stadium fiasco after Mr Abe ordered plans to be torn up in the face of growing anger over its cost.

It was on track to become the most expensive sports stadium in history.

Last week, Japan said it would slash the cost of the showpiece venue by more than 40 per cent, setting a cap of 155 billion yen (S$1.81 billion) on construction costs.