Tokyo Olympics to Pick Female Minister as Chief, NHK Says

This content was published on February 17, 2021 - 08:15

(Bloomberg) -- Seiko Hashimoto is set to be selected as the new head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, public broadcaster NHK said Wednesday, after her predecessor stepped down last week over sexist remarks.

Hashimoto, 56, is a former Olympic speed skater and track cyclist. She is currently the minister for the Olympics, as well as gender equality, and one of only two women in the cabinet. While the selection panel has decided to ask her to take on the post, it’s unclear whether she will accept, NHK said, citing a person connected with the matter.

The committee is scrambling to replace Yoshiro Mori, 83, who was forced to resign last week after saying that women talk too much in board meetings. The next president will be faced with the task of restoring enthusiasm for the delayed games, amid widespread doubts over the wisdom of staging a major global sports event during a deadly pandemic in a country that only began its vaccine roll out Wednesday.

Tokyo 2020 said it planned to have another meeting of its selection panel on Thursday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government and organizers say they are determined to hold the Olympics, even as Tokyo endures another virus-related state of emergency and only 16% of Japanese think the event should go ahead as planned, according to one survey. Suga has repeatedly said the event will be proof of the world’s victory over the coronavirus.

Public Outrage Over Sexist Comments Forces Changes at Tokyo 2020

The comments from Mori -- a gaffe-prone former prime minister -- provoked a global backlash including a rare rebuke from the International Olympic Committee and criticism from crucial sponsors such as Toyota Motor Corp. Hundreds of volunteers quit in protest and the organizing committee received some 4,000 critical calls and emails, according to NHK.

The first reported choice to replace Mori was Saburo Kawabuchi, an 84-year-old former soccer star. After more criticism about the potential selection of another octogenarian man, Kawabuchi said he wouldn’t take the post.

The panel appointed to choose Mori’s successor was made up largely of athletes and former athletes, with an equal number of men and women. It was headed by Fujio Mitarai, the 85-year-old chairman and chief executive officer of Canon Inc. The new chief should have “profound knowledge” of the Olympics and the Paralympics, experience on the global stage and an international profile, the committee said following its first meeting Tuesday.

Picking Hashimoto may necessitate finding someone else to take over her cabinet position, which includes the gender equality portfolio. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Wednesday he didn’t know the details of the selection process but he believed discussions were still going on.

Kato said Japan would seek support for the Tokyo Olympics at a call of Group of Seven leaders planned for Friday. The sexism scandal is only the latest setback for the summer Olympics, which were postponed by a year because of the Covid pandemic.

Problems included alleged bribery over the bid itself, followed by logo plagiarism accusations, a U-turn over a stadium design and worries about the safety of holding events in the nuclear-disaster-hit Fukushima prefecture. These hurdles came even before the pandemic broke out and forced the first postponement since the modern Olympics began in the 19th century.

(Updates with details from report in second paragraph.)

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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