Olympic minister set for Tokyo 2020 top job after sexism row

Hiroshi HIYAMA, Kyoko HASEGAWA
·3-min read
Japan's Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto has so far declined to comment on reports she will be tapped to head Tokyo 2020

Tokyo 2020 organisers were poised to name Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto their new president on Thursday after previous chief Yoshiro Mori resigned over a sexism row.

Hashimoto submitted her resignation early Thursday afternoon to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, ahead of the day's second meeting of Tokyo 2020's executive board -- widely expected to announce her appointment.

She said Suga had offered "kind words", saying he hoped she would "give all my strength to create a Tokyo Games that will be embraced by the Japanese people."

She declined to comment further on her expected appointment or her plans for the job until her new role is official.

A seven-time Olympian and one of just two women in Suga's cabinet, Hashimoto has been among the frontrunners for the Tokyo 2020 job since Mori stepped down last week.

She will take on the role just over five months before the virus-postponed Games are scheduled to open, facing public scepticism about whether the event can be safely held in a pandemic.

A committee with a 50-50 gender split was formed to find a successor to 83-year-old Mori after he stepped down last Friday following uproar over his claims that women speak too much in meetings.

Tokyo 2020's executive board met earlier Thursday to hear the results of the committee's deliberations with 2020 vice-president Toshiaki Endo saying a quick decision was needed.

Mori's departure was "enormously damaging from the viewpoint of preparation five months before the Games," Endo said.

"We need to make a decision on the new president as soon as possible, though it is necessary that it goes through appropriate procedures, given the issue has attracted attention at home and abroad," he added.

- Uphill struggle for public support -

Hashimoto, 56, appeared at both winter and summer Games and was also serving as minister for gender equality and women's empowerment.

Her nomination comes after Mori's attempt to handpick his successor -- he proposed an 84-year-old ex-footballer -- was nixed following public criticism.

Hashimoto had reportedly been reluctant to take on the job, but by Thursday morning local media said she was now willing.

She will face an uphill struggle to win over the public on the Games, which are due to open on July 23, having been delayed a year by the pandemic.

Olympic officials and the government insist the huge international event will go ahead this summer.

But polls show around 80 percent of people in Japan back either cancellation or further postponement.

Organisers have tried to quell the disquiet by releasing virus rulebooks -- but doubts persist, with Tokyo and other regions currently under a Covid-19 state of emergency.

The first Olympic test event of 2021 has already been postponed because of tightened border restrictions under the measures.

"There are only five months to go, and putting on a safe and secure Games is going to be of utmost importance, with the understanding of the people of Japan," Endo said earlier Thursday.

Ex-Tokyo 2020 chief Mori, a former prime minister, resigned after domestic and international outcry over remarks he made in early February to members of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

"When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn't restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying," he said.

He apologised for the sexist remarks, while insisting he was repeating complaints made by others, but then dug a deeper hole when he explained that he "doesn't speak to women much".

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