Tokyo, Japan (AFP) – Japan’s Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto became Tokyo 2020’s new president on Thursday, capping an embarrassing sexism row with just over five months until the virus-postponed Games.
Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian who competed in speed skating and as a sprint cyclist, was one of just two women in Japan’s cabinet before stepping down to take the key post.
She replaces 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after claiming that women speak too much in meetings, sparking outcry in Japan and abroad.
“I will spare no effort for the success of the Tokyo Games,” Hashimoto said after being formally appointed, calling virus countermeasures “the top priority.”
She pledged to work to “ensure that the public both domestically and abroad feel this is going to be a safe and secure Olympic Games.”
Hashimoto submitted her resignation earlier Thursday to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who she said had offered “kind words”, and asked her to “give all my strength to create a Tokyo Games that will be embraced by the Japanese people.”
A committee with a 50-50 gender split was formed to find a successor to Mori last week, with Hashimoto immediately among the leading candidates.
Tokyo 2020’s executive board met earlier Thursday to hear the results of the committee’s deliberations with 2020 vice-president Toshiaki Endo saying a quick decision was needed.
Hashimoto, 56, appeared at both winter and summer Games and was also serving as minister for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
But she has been involved in controversy, facing a sexual harassment scandal in 2014 after photos emerged of her hugging and kissing a male figure skater over 20 years her junior.
The skater said he did not think he had been harassed by the married Hashimoto, who apologised for any “misunderstanding” caused by the photos.
Hashimoto’s nomination comes after Mori’s attempt to handpick his successor — he proposed an 84-year-old ex-footballer — was nixed following public criticism.