Photo/IllutrationJOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita, center, Secretary General Tsuyoshi Fukui and Senior Executive Board member Keiko Momii talk during a news conference in Tokyo on Aug. 8. (Takeo Yoshinaga)

Looking to promote free discussions while sharing sensitive information, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) has decided to start holding its executive board meetings behind closed doors.

The JOC announced the decision at an extraordinary meeting in Tokyo on Aug. 8.

Discussions at JOC’s executive board meetings have been open to the media, in principle, since 1989 when the committee became independent from the Japan physical education association, now the Japan Sport Association, with the exception of personnel-related issues.

JOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita, a former Olympic judo gold medalist, said during a news conference that a number of topics could not be put on the table when open to the media, and as a result have kept discussions from moving forward.

"We need to be able to share information that cannot be revealed to the public and discuss matters frankly so we can fulfill our role in developing the field of sports," he said.

Nineteen of 24 executives in attendance voted in favor of the closed-door discussions, with four expressing objections and one saying neither yes or no.

Executive board meetings will be held behind the scenes from the next one on Sept. 10.

To maintain transparency, the board will provide explanations after the meetings or distribute information.

The JOC reporters' association of the Tokyo sports writers club was informed of the new policy in late July and released the following comment: "It goes against the trends of the times. The JOC, which is highly relevant to the public, cannot obtain consent from people if its executive board meetings are closed to the media."

Yamashita, who assumed the post in June, had long sought to realize the change knowing that it would face criticism over transparency considering that the JOC is a public-interest incorporated foundation.

Meetings have been held behind the scenes in the past for such matters as personnel affairs.

The basic sports law stipulates that sports associations are required to maintain transparency to ensure that operations are run appropriately.

Under the governance code for central sports associations, which was released by the Japan Sports Agency in June, appropriate disclosure of information is necessary.

The JOC supervises and provides instructions to central sports associations, whose executive board meetings are open to the media. The decision by the JOC could be seen as conveying the wrong message that it is acceptable to lower the transparency level.

At the JOC's executive board meeting on Aug. 8, some argued that the measures to ensure transparency through explanations to reporters or information dissemination are insufficient and that the meeting minutes should be made public.

"We will have to review ways to increase transparency," Yamashita told reporters at the news conference.