Following a scandal over sexist remarks made by its former chair, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee has named a new president: Japanese athlete-turned-politician Seiko Hashimoto.
A former cyclist and speed skater who competed in seven Summer and Winter Olympics, Hashimoto steps into a highly volatile role as Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee president. Hashimoto said she would “bear a heavy responsibility as chair of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics” and was “fully determined” to hold a successful event, according to CNN.
The Tokyo Olympic games have been mired in controversy for some time now. Already postponed once after originally being scheduled to take place in the summer of 2020, public opinion polls in Tokyo show that up to 80% of citizens want the games canceled completely due to fears over safety for both the athletes as well as the city’s population. Adding to this discord, the city’s organizing committee became embroiled in even more scandal in early February when its 83-year-old then-president Yoshiro Mori made a series of highly sexist and offensive remarks, demeaning women and claiming they talk too much during meetings.
The New York Times reported Mori as saying “On boards with a lot of women, the board meetings take so much time. Women have a strong sense of competition. If one person raises their hand, others probably think, I need to say something too. That’s why everyone speaks.”
Asked to comment on Olympic committee plans to increase the number of women board members to more than 40% of the total, Mori continued his rant, saying: “You have to regulate speaking time to some extent, or else we’ll never be able to finish.”
In a story by The Times’s Motoko Rich, Hikari Hida and Makiko Inoue, the reporters said “on Twitter, users quickly began calling for Mori to resign. Others suggested Mori’s age, and his outdated attitude, were the real problem.”
Although he originally refused to turn over control of the Olympic planning committee, the criticism continued to gain steam and angry citizens began signing petitions demanding his replacement. A week later, he ultimately apologized for his statements and resigned, saying “My inappropriate comments caused big trouble. I am sorry.”
In addition to the already immense challenge of organizing and running one of the largest sporting events in the world and keeping the Olympic games safe despite COVID-19, Hashimoto has also been tasked with figuring out how to increase inclusion and representation for women in the 2021 Tokyo Games.
Reuters’ Sakura Murakami and Elaine Lies have reported that “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.”
As for the retiring Mori, his comments serve as the cap in a long career filled with political gaffes. The former Japanese Minister, who led the country from April of 2000 to April of 2001, is said to have once continued golfing even after hearing news of a local disaster that killed a number of Japanese youths. After news of his resignation came to light, his repeated public denial caused panic within the Japanese market and the country’s Nikkei 500 stock exchange plummeted to historic lows.
The 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games are currently scheduled to run from Friday, July 23 to Sunday, August 8.