• Kyodo

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Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Tamayo Marukawa took office as the new Olympic minister on Thursday to replace Seiko Hashimoto, who now leads the Tokyo Organising Committee to oversee this summer’s games.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters he expects Marukawa to use her previous experience in the role, which she held from 2016 to 2017, to help realize a “safe and secure” games.

Marukawa, a 50-year-old member of the House of Councillors who has also served as environment minister, pledged to prioritize measures against the COVID-19 pandemic in preparing for the Tokyo Games.

“We cannot stage a successful games unless the public feels the events can be held safely,” she said at a news conference.

A decision on how many spectators will be allowed to attend will be made in the spring, Marukawa said.

Hashimoto, 56, stepped down earlier Thursday to succeed Yoshiro Mori, who quit the organizing committee last week after making sexist remarks.

“Unfortunately, it has recently become clear that Japan is only halfway along in its efforts for gender equality,” said Marukawa, who also took over Hashimoto other portfolios as minister in charge of women’s empowerment and gender equality.

“It’s important we keep moving forward to effect change,” Marukawa added.

The Cabinet switch, the first since Suga took office last September, came less than six months before the postponed Tokyo Olympics are set to be held and amid public skepticism of whether the games can take place during a pandemic.

More than 80% of respondents to a Kyodo News poll conducted this month said the Olympics and Paralympics should be either delayed again or canceled outright.

A newscaster-turned-politician, Marukawa is a native of Hyogo Prefecture but represents Tokyo as a third-term Upper House member.

She served as environment minister from 2015 to 2016 under then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and since last September has been the LDP’s head of public relations.

Her husband is LDP lawmaker and House of Representatives member Taku Otsuka.

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