Morinari Watanabe, the Japanese head of the International Gymnastics Federation, understands what it means to stick the landing.
As the newly appointed boss of an IOC task force formed to deliver the boxing competition at the Tokyo Olympics, he’ll have to complete what may be his greatest routine under the pressure of a tight deadline.
Watanabe learned of his appointment just two days ago, receiving the call from IOC president Thomas Bach on Tuesday night.
“I was having dinner and the number +44 appeared on my phone, so it was from the U.K. I said ‘Hello,’ and they said ‘How are you?’ and I said ‘I was wondering who you are,’ and it was President Bach,” recalled Watanabe to reporters at Tokyo 2020 headquarters on Thursday.
“He told me ‘become the chair of the task force’, so I was happy. I was aware of the challenges and issues. I knew there are athletes who are suffering from it. If there are people who are suffering, it’s the obligation of an IOC member to support them.”
Following the suspension of AIBA, the scandal-struck organization that oversees amateur boxing, from the Olympics, the IOC decided this week to move forward with the Olympic competition, which is scheduled to take place at Tokyo’s famed Ryogoku Kokugikan.
In charge will be Watanabe, a longtime sporting official with over three decades of experience as a gymnastics coach.
“I wouldn’t be able to stand it if my Olympic dreams were crushed immediately before the games,” said Watanabe. “Athletes at the Olympics must be given a fair and equal environment to be able to compete. They have a right to that, and the IOC, international federations, and Tokyo 2020 have an obligation to provide that environment.”
Watanabe, who departed the venue to immediately board a flight bound for Lausanne, Switzerland, where the IOC is based, declined to give a timetable for his task force’s decisions. Saying he expected to have “no time to sleep,” the 60-year-old Fukuoka native promised to cast a wide net and said he would seek advice from athletes on a variety of issues, including the gender balance of the games’ boxing tournament.
“That’s something I would like to get input on from the athletes themselves,” said Watanabe. “The whole world thinks that gender equality is common sense. That will be the foundation of how we decide on our measures.”