• REUTERS, JIJI

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Tokyo Olympic organizers are making gender equality as much of a priority as their efforts to deliver a safe games, Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said Wednesday.

Hashimoto was named head of the organizing committee last week, replacing 83-year-old former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after setting off a furor by making sexist remarks.

In response to the uproar caused by Mori’s comments, organizers have created a committee on gender equality.

“Gender equality and women’s empowerment is going to be something that is going to be promoted,” Hashimoto said.

Hashimoto, a former Olympic speedskater and track cyclist, also reiterated her goal of increasing the proportion of women on the organizing committee’s board to 40%.

“Even with limited time until the games, we will work hard so people can look back and say this is a big turning point for Japan,” Hashimoto told reporters in reference to the new equality team.

The gender equality promotion team, led by Mikako Kotani, the organizing committee’s sports director, was scheduled to begin operating Thursday. Kotani, a former Olympic artistic swimmer, said the team will consider reforms to be implemented for the Tokyo Games and beyond.

Hashimoto spoke after a meeting with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) board at almost the same time as — in remarks unlikely to calm public concerns over the Olympics — the minister overseeing Japan’s vaccination program told a separate event that the games were not part of his planning.

Following the board meeting, the IOC hailed the transfer of power from Mori to Hashimoto as seamless.

“With her report she could already demonstrate she knows the portfolio, that she is up to date on all the details of this organization,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a virtual news conference.

“There is a very seamless transfer of power in the organizing committee. She highlighted her strategic priorities, safety of the games, gender equality and legacy.”

About 1,000 Olympic volunteers have quit since early this month, while four runners scheduled to participate in the torch relay have also resigned, according to the organizing team.

In a poll of Paralympic sporting groups conducted by NHK, 80% of respondents said a decline in the number of coronavirus patients in Japan was essential for the games to go ahead, while 76% said preventive measures such as vaccines were needed.

Japan recorded 1,083 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, NHK said, well below a peak of almost 8,000 recorded Jan. 8.

Japan kicked off its virus inoculation drive days ago, becoming the last G7 nation to do so.

More than half of Japanese firms believe the games should be canceled or postponed again, a survey by think tank Tokyo Shoko Research showed last week, underscoring doubts over the viability of the event.

The Olympics, which were postponed by a year due to COVID-19, are set to be held from July 23 to Aug. 8, with the Paralympics to follow from Aug. 24, to Sept. 5.

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