• Kyodo

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Women can now join a Tokyo Olympic torch relay leg involving a traditional decorated boat in response to calls that excluding them violates the global sporting event’s principle of gender equality, local officials said Friday.

In the relay leg due to be held Tuesday, only men were initially set to be allowed to board the boat to be used in the 200-meter segment, crossing a canal in Handa, Aichi Prefecture.

Women are normally prohibited from getting in the Chintoro boat, which is used in a local festival dating back to the Edo Period (1603-1868), according to the city.

“We will allow women on the boat as (the relay) is a separate event from the regular festival,” a city official said.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, told a news conference in Tokyo: “I understand (the city) took into account the importance of gender equality, the aim of the games while preserving the wonderful traditional culture of Japan.”

Hashimoto, who replaced Yoshiro Mori as head of the committee last February after he made sexist remarks that sparked an international uproar, expressed her appreciation for its decision and pledged to continue promoting gender equality.

The Handa Municipal Government had planned to re-enact the Chintoro festival with only male participants on the boat.

The Olympic flame is set to travel to all 47 prefectures during the 121-day nationwide relay, which started in Fukushima Prefecture on March 25, in an attempt to boost enthusiasm for the Summer Games.

The International Olympic Committee says its role is “to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women.”

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