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Former Athens Olympics chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki believes the Tokyo organizing committee’s new head Seiko Hashimoto can use the resilience she developed in her high-profile political and sports careers to carry the delayed 2020 Games to success.

Hailed for promoting the role of women in sport, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who was the first woman to head an Olympic organizing committee, says Hashimoto’s appointment demonstrates progress towards gender equality in Japan and in sport, a particularly important step given Hashimoto’s predecessor was forced out by a sexism scandal.

“I’m very glad that Ms. Hashimoto has taken over. I am sure that there are many women in (Japan) and in other countries that are very happy to see a woman leading,” Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

“An Olympian knows well about dedication, perseverance and discipline. A woman Olympian also knows about sacrifices. I believe that she will have the ingredients of success,” said the current ambassador-at-large of the Greek state, lawyer and former parliamentarian.

Hashimoto, 56, is a seven-time Olympian, having competed in both cycling and speedskating. She is also one of the country’s most prominent female politicians and was Olympics minister before being tapped to take over at the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.

In 2000, she became the first upper house legislator in Japan to give birth to a child while in office.

Last month, she replaced Yoshiro Mori, an 83-year-old former Japanese prime minister who was forced to resign after telling a Japan Olympic Committee gathering that board meetings involving women drag on because females talk too much.

Whether the two high-profile women will lead in the same way remains to be seen, but Angelopoulos-Daskalaki thinks Hashimoto will need to face and conquer some of the same obstacles she scaled.

One similar challenge they both faced is the emergence of a new and dangerous disease. In 2002 and 2003, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki had to deal with the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS, and Hashimoto, of course, still has COVID-19 to surmount.

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki also came in to rescue a teetering games, as she was asked to take over preparations with four years remaining after three years of planning delays and political squabbling.

Hashimoto became Tokyo 2020’s new president with just over five months until the virus-postponed games.

“When I took over as president (after my involvement in the bid), we had already exhausted three years, and we had to operate at maximum speed to catch up,” Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said.

“Another issue was that we needed to tackle unforeseen issues like you have to now.”

Despite the pressure to avoid becoming a global laughingstock, the 65-year-old Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, also a businesswoman and bestselling author, says organizing the Olympic and Paralympic Games was the highlight of her public service career.

In her mind, Athens defied the skeptics by staging a Summer Games that “exceeded our wildest dreams and expectations” in 2004, and Tokyo can do the same under a great female leader if it acts quickly and listens closely to the public.

“It takes a lot of factors. First of all, make fast decisions. Second, inform simultaneously all factors that they involve…Your first task is to make the public your partner. We know all that a very good management team can do the job.”

According to Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, hosting a major sporting event requires strong support and collaboration from a broad range of stakeholders, and vitally, the public.

A lack of widespread support can severely undermine a host’s chances for success, underlining the challenge facing Hashimoto with opinion polls consistently showing the pandemic-weary public has largely turned against the idea of hosting the games starting on July 23.

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki says focusing on the post-games legacy and promoting that vision is key, but she says it is also important that the public understands and appreciates the enormous scale and complexity of the task organizers have taken on.

“Whatever you plan to do, you have to prove to the public the importance that it will play in our lives for the years after the games,” Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said.

“Each country is unique and each country has, as we say, to create a costume, having to do with their mentality, their history, their needs, their place in the world. You can create a new atmosphere, but you need the general public in that, especially participating in difficult decisions that you have to make.”

When the games were postponed last March, Tokyo entered unknown territory. With concerns about the ongoing pandemic and more contagious new variants of the virus, Japan has been forced to consider the costly decision of possibly holding the Tokyo Olympics without overseas fans.

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki hopes to see Japan’s good intentions translated into concrete steps that will allow it to host a safe games that inspire pride, and wishes Hashimoto the best of luck.

“This year, this project carries additional difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic that has affected all of us so much,” Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said.

“I’m sure that your Olympics can spark optimism and encouragement in a very stressful year for all humanity. You need this joy, this light, this admiration, to make you be proud of yourself, and show to the rest of the world that you are proud because you are doing an excellent job.”

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