Seiko Hashimoto was appointed the new president of the Tokyo Organising Committee after stepping down as Olympic minister Thursday, replacing Yoshiro Mori after his sexist remarks led to his resignation just five months before the games are set to begin.
Tamayo Marukawa, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker in the Upper House and former Olympics minister, will retake the role just vacated by Hashimoto, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said later in the day. Marukawa served as Olympics minister from 2016 to 2017. Hashimoto stepped down from her ministerial post due to restrictions that prevent a minister from simultaneously serving as president of a public entity.
“I have supported and have been supported by the organizing committee both as an athlete and a minister, and I will continue to do so but this time in my capacity as president of the Tokyo Organising Committee,” Hashimoto said during an executive board meeting Thursday.
Hashimoto acknowledged the turmoil that led to her appointment, and said the executive board has decided to form a gender equality committee in the wake of Mori’s departure.
“I think she was really torn over what she should do. But she is passionate about holding the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games successfully,” Suga said of Hashimoto. “I hope she will do her best for a safe games that will be welcomed by people at home and abroad.”
Hashimoto, a 56-year-old former Olympian, takes the helm of the host city’s foremost organizing body for the games at a pivotal time.
Never has the position changed hands so close to the start of the Olympic Torch Relay, which begins March 25, nor have the games ever been held during an ongoing global pandemic.
On Tuesday, the selection committee said it would choose a candidate based on five criteria: a deep knowledge of the Olympic and Paralympic Games; an understanding of its principles concerning gender, inclusivity and diversity; work experience; knowledge of the Tokyo Games; and management skills.
Hashimoto had been serving in Suga’s Cabinet as the minister in charge of the Tokyo Games and the empowerment of women.
Having competed in seven games — including four Winter Olympics as a speed skater and three Summer Olympics as a track cyclist — Hashimoto has the second-most Olympic appearances by any Japanese athlete, behind ski jumper Noriaki Kasai.
Hashimoto won the bronze medal for speed skating at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
Organizers hope her experience as a politician and a professional athlete will bring stability to an organizing body shaken by the fallout from the remarks made earlier this month by its previous president, who resigned in disgrace following a global backlash.
Mori, an 83-year-old former prime minister, was appointed president of the Tokyo Organising Committee when it was founded in 2014 under then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Supporters held that Mori’s political prowess and his experience as prime minister — albeit for a brief and unpopular term — would serve as a pillar in Japan’s efforts to become one of the few countries to have successfully hosted the Summer Olympics more than once.
Whatever progress had been made was momentarily forgotten on Feb. 3 when reports emerged that Mori had said during a meeting with the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) that women can be competitive and speak too much.
“If one (female) member raises her hand to speak, all the others feel the need to speak too. Everyone ends up saying something,” he said. “If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.”
The response to Mori’s discriminatory remarks was swift and sizable.
Thousands called for his resignation, corporate sponsors voiced concerns and top politicians condemned Mori, though few actually called for his removal.
A slew of foreign embassies, sporting associations and individual athletes chimed in to publicly voice their dissent.
Mori initially handpicked Saburo Kawabuchi, former president of the Japan Football Association, as his successor, but that fell through after organizers and government officials questioned the outgoing president’s role in choosing his own replacement.
Several names were floated after that, including that of Yasuhiro Yamashita, chairman of the JOC, and Mikako Kotani, a former Olympic medalist and a current member of the organizing committee’s executive board.
There was also debate over the merits of choosing somebody from outside the organizing committee, rather than an existing member of the executive board.
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