Shunichiro Okano, former president of the Japan Football Association and member of the International Olympic Committee, died Thursday of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital, sources close to the situation said Friday. He was 85.
Okano, who won one cap during his playing days, helped Japan win the bronze medal in soccer at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics as an assistant coach and went on to manage the national team in 1970 and 1971.
The Tokyo native became JFA president in 1998 and oversaw Japan’s co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup finals with South Korea.
“I admired him as someone who was active in the fields of soccer, sports and education,” JFA president Kozo Tashima said. “Many of the things I’m doing now as president have been influenced by him.”
Kunishige Kamamoto, whose 76 goals are the most for the Japanese national team, said, “He picked me for the (national) youth teams and always looked after me. He was always there for me while I developed as a player.”
Okano also was a familiar face on a weekly TV soccer program broadcast for 20 years through 1988, explaining not only the tactics and techniques of overseas soccer matches but also introducing the historical and geographical backgrounds of the teams at a time when soccer was not very popular in Japan.
“The program was synonymous with Okano-san and it contributed hugely to the popularization of the sport. He was someone invaluable to Japanese soccer,” said Kuniya Daini, honorary president of the JFA.
Okano also served as an IOC member from 1990 and was part of the successful 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic bidding team. He stepped down as an IOC member in 2011 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 80.
Okano received the Person of Cultural Merit award in 2012, the same year he was found to have lung cancer.
“The Olympic movement lost a precious person,” Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda said. “To me, he was the best a leader can be. He taught me countless things. I don’t know any other person in the IOC who was loved by as many as Okano-san was.”
Honorary IOC member Chiharu Igaya and Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Daichi Suzuki separately expressed disappointment over losing Okano before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.