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A veteran who knows the ins and outs of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, or a new, young face to give the impression that the organizing committee is starting afresh?

That is the question now hanging over the Tokyo Organising Committee panel tasked with selecting the successor to its former president, Yoshiro Mori, who resigned Friday over sexist remarks earlier this month. Chaired by the committee’s Honorary Chairman Fujio Mitarai, 85, on Tuesday it held a meeting to begin the search for the replacement.

The eight-member panel is expected to discuss the selection criteria first and then come up with a candidate, or candidates, to step into the role.

Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the organizing committee, told reporters Friday that a successor needs to have a certain background in the Olympics and Paralympics as well as a high awareness of gender equality and inclusiveness.

Whoever is chosen faces a daunting task, with the replacement having to deal with domestic and international anger over the powerful former prime minister’s remarks.

The new president will also be appointed to the post less than six months before the Tokyo Olympics and amid skepticism over whether the games can safely take place during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The following people are some of those who have surfaced as possible candidates.

Yasuhiro Yamashita | KYODO
Yasuhiro Yamashita | KYODO

Yasuhiro Yamashita, 63

The chairman of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) is a judo champion who won a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and has been involved with numerous associations promoting the sport.

There have been calls for a woman or a person with a well-rounded political background to assume the post. But advocates say Yamashita’s experience with the JOC and his deep knowledge of and connections to Japan’s political establishment and the international Olympic associations qualifies him as a candidate — especially with less than six months to go until the opening ceremony.


Seiko Hashimoto | REUTERS
Seiko Hashimoto | REUTERS

Seiko Hashimoto, 56

Hashimoto, a Liberal Democratic Party member in the Upper House, serves as minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. She’s a former Olympian who has competed in seven Olympics, including four Winter Olympics as a speed skater and three Summer Olympics as a track cyclist. She won the bronze medal for the 1,500-meter speed skating event at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

Hashimoto later turned to politics, winning a seat in the Upper House in 1995. She is a member of an LDP faction that used to be led by Mori. She has been involved with Japanese Olympic-related organizations throughout her political career, including the JOC.

As the Tokyo Organising Committee president needs to be politically neutral, Hashimoto would face pressure to not only resign as Olympic minister but also, from some quarters, as a lawmaker. She has denied she is interested in the post.


Shinzo Abe | POOL / VIA REUTERS
Shinzo Abe | POOL / VIA REUTERS

Shinzo Abe, 66

Mori has indicated that he would be keen for the former prime minister to take over the role. Abe is remembered by many abroad for his appearance at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro dressed as Nintendo’s Super Mario, in a symbolic gesture accepting the baton for the 2020 Games.

But while Abe and Mori are close, coming from the same LDP faction, the two are seen as being of similar political stature, without particularly strong influence over the other. Perhaps more importantly, while Abe, as a former prime minister, has the experience, political influence and connections to reassure the IOC that the Tokyo Olympics are under strong leadership, it is unclear whether he would take the high-stress job with little time to prepare.

Abe resigned as prime minister in September over a health problem, and has since been questioned by prosecutors over a political funds scandal. The former prime minister could also face questions over his continued status as a lawmaker should he take the role.


Koji Murofushi | POOL / VIA REUTERS
Koji Murofushi | POOL / VIA REUTERS

Koji Murofushi, 46

As the commissioner of the Japan Sports Agency and a two-time Olympic medalist, Murofushi quickly emerged as a candidate for the presidency following Mori’s resignation.

Before he became the Sports Agency chief in October 2020, Murofushi was the sports director of the Tokyo Games, where he acted as a liaison between athletes, international federations and the organizing committee.

In 2012, the IOC voided Murofushi’s election to its Athletes’ Commission because he violated election rules by distributing campaign goods and posting fliers with his name on them.

Following Mori’s sexist remarks, the Japan Sports Agency issued a statement by Murofushi, saying the agency would observe the principle of gender equality. But he was also criticized for not directly referring to Mori’s comments.

As an athlete, Murofushi became the first Asian athlete to capture the gold medal in the hammer throw at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He won bronze at the 2012 London Games as well.


Mikako Kotani | KYODO
Mikako Kotani | KYODO

Mikako Kotani, 54

A former Olympic medalist in what is now called artistic swimming, Kotani appears a stronger fit for the presidency than other candidates with her distinguished career as both an athlete and sports administrator.

The 54-year-old succeeded Murofushi to become the sports director of the Tokyo Games last fall. She is an executive board member on the organizing committee while also acting as vice mayor of the athletes village for the games.

Kotani was appointed as the chairperson of the Athlete’s Commission for the Olympic Council of Asia in December.

The Tokyo native, who has also appeared as a television commentator, introduced the Olympic Truce Resolution, which aims to ensure a halt to all hostilities during the games, to the U.N. General Assembly in 1997.

Kotani racked up bronze medals in the synchronized swimming solo and duet at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2007.


Tamayo Marukawa | REUTERS
Tamayo Marukawa | REUTERS

Tamayo Marukawa, 50

Marukawa, an LDP Upper House member who belongs to the faction once led by Mori, served as Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic minister from 2016 to 2017.

A former television anchor, she is currently serving as head of the LDP’s public relations section. But becoming president would mean that she, too, would face pressure to possibly resign as a lawmaker before accepting the post.

Another possible scenario would be Hashimoto taking over as Tokyo Organising Committee president and Marukawa serving again as minister for the Tokyo Olympics. That would boost the number of women at quadrilateral meetings between the IOC, Tokyo Organising Committee president, Olympic minister and Tokyo governor, with IOC President Thomas Bach becoming the only man in attendance.

However, this scenario could raise complicated questions about Hashimoto and Marukawa’s relationships with Mori, their former faction head and political elder, and what his behind-the-scenes influence on both women might be.

In addition to those highlighted above, there are some others who are considered dark horse candidates. They include Yuko Mitsuya, another Olympic medalist who was on the Japan women’s volleyball squad that won bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics; former Sports Agency chief Daichi Suzuki, who won gold for backstroke at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul; Kaori Yamaguchi, who won bronze in judo, also at the 1988 Olympics; and Yokohama DeNA BayStars owner Tomoko Namba, who is a member of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s advisory panel on growth strategies and is close to Suga.

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