Seiko Hashimoto was named president of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, making history after a meeting of its male-dominated executive board in a country where women are rare in boardrooms and positions of political power.
She replaces Yoshiro Mori, 83, a former Japanese prime minister who was forced to resign last week after making sexist comments about women.
Hashimoto appeared in seven Olympics: four Winter Olympics and three Summer Olympics. According to historian Dr. Bill Mallon, his seven appearances is the most of any “multi-season” athlete at the games.
Hashimoto had served as an Olympic minister in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s cabinet. She also had a folder that was about gender equality and women’s empowerment.
He competed in three Summer Olympics (’88, ’92 and ’96) in cycling and in four Winter Olympics (’84, ’88, ’92 and ’94) in speed skating. He won a bronze medal, his only medal, in 1992 at 1,500 meters in speed skating.
Hashimoto is linked to the Olympics in many ways. She was born in Hokkaido, in northern Japan, just five days before the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Her name “Seiko” comes from “seika”, which translates to Olympic flame in English.
According to reports widely circulated in Japan, Hashimoto was reluctant to accept the position and was one of three final candidates considered by a selection committee headed by Fujio Mitarai, 85, of the Canon camera company.
The selection committee met for three consecutive days, a hasty appointment with the opening of the Olympics postponed by just over five months amid a pandemic and facing myriad problems.
Polls show that around 80% of Japanese want the Olympics to be canceled or postponed again. There is fear of bringing tens of thousands of athletes and others to Japan, which has controlled the coronavirus better than most countries.
There is also opposition to rising costs.
The official cost is $ 15.4 billion (€ 12.7 billion), although various government audits say the price is at least $ 25 billion, the most expensive Summer Olympics on record according to a study by Oxford University.
Naming a woman could go a long way for gender equality in Japan, where women are underrepresented in boardrooms and in politics. Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s annual gender equality ranking.
Mori, before resigning, tried to offer the job last week to Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, the former head of the country’s soccer federation. But reports of the closed-door deal were widely criticized on social media, on Japanese talk shows and in newspaper reports.
Kawabuchi quickly withdrew from consideration.
Hashimoto is not without critics. In 2014, a Japanese magazine published photos of her hugging figure skater Daisuke Takahashi at a party during the Sochi Olympics, suggesting that it was sexual harassment. He later apologized and Takahashi said that he did not feel harassed.
Two other former Olympians were also reported to have competed for Mori’s position: Yasuhiro Yamashita, the chairman of the Japanese Olympic Committee who won gold in judo in 1984, and Mikako Kotani, who won two bronze medals in synchronized swimming in 1988. Seoul Olympics.
Kotani is the sports director of the organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics. The leadership of that committee is dominated by men, who constitute 80% of the executive board.
Japan began releasing vaccines on Wednesday, a critical move that could boost the Olympics. It is several months behind Great Britain, the United States and other countries.
Widespread vaccination is unlikely in Japan when the Olympics kick off on July 23 with 11,000 athletes, followed by the Paralympics on August 24 with 4,400 athletes. The plan is to keep athletes in a “bubble” in the Athletes’ Village, at venues and in training areas. The IOC has said that it will not require “participants” to be vaccinated, but encourages it.
In addition to the athletes, tens of thousands of officials, media, sponsors and broadcasters will also have to enter Japan. Many of them will operate outside the “bubble” in an Olympic Games driven by television and the billions the IOC receives from the sale of broadcast rights.
The first challenge for Hashimoto could be to perform the torch relay that begins on March 25 in northeast Japan. It will cross the country with some 10,000 runners and finish at the opening ceremony in Tokyo.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism