OSAKA – The selection of Seiko Hashimoto as president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee on Thursday brings one of Japan’s most well-known former Olympians to the top post. The outgoing minister for the Tokyo Games participated in seven Olympics in two different sports, is a strong advocate of holding the games and has administrative experience in the sporting and political worlds.
But Hashimoto, who takes over from former President Yoshiro Mori, who was forced to step down last week following a domestic and international furor over his sexist remarks, appears to have only reluctantly accepted the post.
In addition, she could face questions about her relationship with Mori — Hashimoto is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party faction that Mori once led, and he has provided Hashimoto with various forms of political assistance over the years.
When Hashimoto’s name emerged as a possible successor following Mori’s resignation, she initially declined to express an interest in the post, given the implications for her Cabinet position, which she was forced to leave. She may also be pushed to temporarily leave the Liberal Democratic Party and could even face pressure to resign from the Diet, as the position of Tokyo 2020 president is supposed to be a politically neutral post.
Nonetheless, her experience as an Olympic athlete and president of the Japan Skating Federation, not to mention various senior leadership posts with domestic associations for handball, judo and competitive cycling, has added to her contacts in the sports world, satisfying some of the requirements for the post as laid out by the panel that picked the new president. She has also been a fierce advocate for holding the Tokyo Olympics despite coronavirus concerns, telling reporters in September that they should be held at any cost, given all of the work by athletes and everyone involved with the games.
The fact that she is a woman also played a role in the decision. After Mori resigned, there were widespread reports that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration preferred the 83-year-old Mori’s successor be younger and female. Although Hashimoto, who is 56, initially dismissed reports she was a top choice, she had become the main candidate by Wednesday.
Hashimoto replaces Mori just as old allegations of sexual harassment have resurfaced. In August 2014, domestic media published photographs of her hugging and kissing Japanese male figure skater Daisuke Takahashi during a party after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Hashimoto was the boss of his sporting association and was forced to issue an apology.
Takahashi denied that he was sexually harassed, and he and Hashimoto were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Japanese Olympic Committee. Hashimoto would later be appointed Olympic minister under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2019, working closely with the Tokyo Organising Committee, especially Mori, the central government and the International Olympic Committee.
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