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Tokyo Olympics: Japan names female ex-athlete as new chief after sexism storm

"As someone with an athletic background, I will carry out a safe Games for both athletes and citizens," said Seiko Hashimoto.
Image: Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organizing Committee attends a press conference following the Tokyo 2020 Executive Board meeting
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organizing Committee attends a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday.Yuichi Yamazaki / AP

TOKYO — Japanese athlete-turned-politician Seiko Hashimoto has been chosen as president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing committee, replacing a man who resigned after setting off a furor with sexist remarks.

Hashimoto, who competed in seven Summer and Winter Olympics as a cyclist and a skater, now faces a raft of tough issues at the helm of one of the world's biggest sporting events, with less than half a year before its delayed start.

She must ensure athletes and officials are kept safe from the coronavirus, while also facing strong public opposition in Japan to the Games being held amid the pandemic.

Hashimoto announced her selection shortly after submitting her resignation as Olympics minister to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who encouraged her to make the Games successful.

"As someone with an athletic background, I will carry out a safe Games for both athletes and citizens," she told a news conference Thursday.

She replaces Yoshiro Mori, an 83-year-old former prime minister, who resigned as Tokyo 2020 president last week after saying women talk too much.

Her appointment was welcomed by the International Olympic Committee, which had not demanded Mori's resignation and had initially considered the case closed after his first apology and refusal to step down.

"With her great Olympic experience....and having led Japan's delegation to the Olympic Games multiple times, she is the perfect choice for this position," IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.

"Seiko Hashimoto can draw on her rich political experience as a Minister and many other political functions. This will help to deliver safe and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games."

Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that more than 80 percent of Japanese people do not believe the Games should be held this year due to the pandemic, a concern Hashimoto pledged to address for both ordinary citizens and athletes.

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A 56-year-old lawmaker in Japan's ruling party, Hashimoto served as the Olympics minister, doubling as minister for women's empowerment since 2019, until resigning on Thursday.

She was born days before Japan hosted the 1964 summer Games and her name comes from a Chinese character used for the Olympic flame. She lived up to it by taking part in four Winter Olympics as a speed skater and three Summer Olympics as a cyclist.

The Olympic rings floating in the water are seen through rocks in the Odaiba section, Tokyo, on Thursday.Eugene Hoshiko / AP

Mori resigned last Friday after causing an international outcry by saying during a committee meeting that women talk too much. He initially defied calls to step down but growing anger at his remarks and a public petition drive, helped seal his fate in a nation still struggling with gender equality.

Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum's 2020 Global Gender Gap Index — the worst ranking gap among advanced countries — scoring poorly on women's economic participation and political empowerment.

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka who defeated Serena Williams in the Australian Open semifinals on Thursday, welcomed Mori's resignation.

"I think for me, what it means is that there's a lot of things I think people used to accept, the things that used to be said, but you're seeing the newer generation not tolerate a lot of things," she told a news conference in Australia.