Tokyo 2020 has appointed Olympic medallist Seiko Hashimoto as President of the Organising Committee for the postponed Games, following the resignation of Yoshirō Mori last week.
I will spare no effort for the success of the Tokyo Games. Seiko Hashimoto, President Tokyo 2020
The appointment of a woman to the role by the Candidate Selection Committee is a significant move after Mori, a former Prime Minister of Japan aged 83, was forced to step down because of sexist remarks he made about women.
Hashimoto, a 56-year-old Olympic speed skating bronze medallist, was reportedly initially reluctant to accept the position but was persuaded to do so by the current Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
“I will spare no effort for the success of the Tokyo Games,” Hashimoto said.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said appointing a female to lead the Organising Committee ‘sends a very important signal with regard to gender equality’.
“With her great Olympic experience, having won a medal, participated in seven editions of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Winter Games, and having led Japan’s delegation to the Olympic Games multiple times, she is the perfect choice for this position,” Bach added.
“She will ensure that the focus in the final months of preparation remains on the athletes’ experience while planning all the necessary COVID-19 countermeasures.”
Hashimoto, who had previously faced allegations of sexual harassment at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, was reportedly one of three candidates shortlisted by the Selection Committee.
Japanese media reported Yasuhiro Yamashita, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee and gold medallist in judo at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and Mikako Kotani, a double bronze medallist in synchronised swimming at Seoul 1988, were also in the running.
The Selection Committee, headed by 85-year-old Canon Chief Executive Fujio Mitarai, fast-tracked its process to find a replacement for Mori, with the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics set to open in just over five months.
It was established after the 83-year-old former Japanese Prime Minister bowed to widespread pressure and resigned as Tokyo 2020 President following his sexist remarks, when he suggested women talk too much.
International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons said it was ‘essential that no time was left to waste’ in replacing Mori and welcomed Hashimoto’s appointment.
“She knows the Games environment well as a seven-time Olympian and former Games Minister, is well connected politically and will bring a strong athlete viewpoint to the Organising Committee,” Parsons said.
“As the former Minister of State for Gender Equality and Minister in Charge of Women’s Empowerment, I look forward to her to using the Games as a platform to advance the diversity and inclusion agenda, not just in terms of gender, but sexuality, race and, importantly, persons with disabilities.”
The sexism row marked the latest crisis for organisers of the first postponed Olympic and Paralympic Games and came amid renewed concerns over whether the event would go ahead following a surge in COVID-19 cases across the world.
Hashimoto’s seven Olympic Games are a record for a Japanese woman, after her career as a speed skater and a cyclist.
She was best known for speed skating, competing on the ice at four Winter Olympics and winning bronze over 1500 metres in Albertville in 1992.
On the bike, Hashimoto competed at three Summer Olympics without winning a medal.
Towards the end of her sporting career she moved into politics and, as a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was appointed Olympics Minister in September 2019 after a cabinet reshuffle.
She has also served as Vice-President of the Japanese Olympic Committee, as a Tokyo 2020 Executive Board member and as Chef de Mission for Japan’s team at Rio 2016.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who publicly criticised Mori’s comments before he resigned, said she had ‘high expectations that she will approach operating the Games from an athlete’s perspective’ given her experience in sport.