TOKYO • Japanese athlete-turned-politician Seiko Hashimoto was yesterday chosen as president of the Tokyo 2020 Games organising committee, vowing to "regain trust" after a sexism row saw her predecessor step down.
She replaced former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori after the 83-year-old resigned for saying that women talk too much in meetings, sparking global outcry.
Ms Hashimoto 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 to the Games being held amid the pandemic.
"I'm sure the Games are going to attract more attention related to gender equality, and in this regard I am determined to regain trust, by my fullest endeavours," she said.
Her appointment was welcomed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), 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.
"Seiko Hashimoto can draw on her rich political experience as a minister and many other political functions. This will help to deliver a safe and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games."
Ms Hashimoto has pledged to address safety issues for both ordinary citizens and athletes, with polls showing around 80 per cent of people in Japan backing either a cancellation or further postponement of the Games.
"I can imagine how tough it is for athletes with so many questions about whether they should even aim for the Olympics and Paralympics amid the pandemic," she said, adding Covid-19 countermeasures would be a "top priority".
"As someone with an athletic background, I will carry out a safe Games for both athletes and citizens," she added.
She also revealed plans to increase the number of women on the Tokyo 2020 executive board from around 20 to 40 per cent, and urged Olympic torchbearers and volunteers who had quit in protest at Mori's comments to return.
"I recognise there is still a lot of conscious division of roles according to gender (in Japan). What can be done to change that through the organising committee's reforms is important," she said.
While Ms Hashimoto is not as gaffe prone as Mori, who has a controversial history, the 56-year-old has faced scrutiny before.
During a party at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, she was accused of making unwanted advances on ice skater Daisuke Takahashi. But she profusely apologised yesterday for what had transpired and to her credit, Ms Hashimoto has put that incident behind her in the years since.
And Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga believes her time as a sprint cyclist and speed skater would stand her in good stead for the July 23-Aug 8 Tokyo Games.
"She has experience of competing at the Summer and Winter Olympics seven times," said Mr Suga.
"I want her to work hard to firmly realise the philosophy of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics by making use of that experience."
Japan's world No. 3 tennis player Naomi Osaka, a leading face of the Games, will give the new appointee her full support.
"I feel like it's really good because you're pushing forward, barriers are being broken down, especially for females," she said after booking her place in tomorrow's Australian Open final in Melbourne, where she is the favourite to win her fourth Major.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS