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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Hunt for Tokyo 2020 head focuses on female seven-time Olympian

Hashimoto tipped for job after sexism row as COVID threatens Games again

Seiko Hashimoto, a speed skater and track cyclist, currently serves as Olympic minister. (File photo by Yuki Kohara)

TOKYO -- The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have narrowed down their search for a new leader to Seiko Hashimoto, the government's incumbent Olympic minister and a former athlete herself, Nikkei learned on Wednesday.

The organizing committee's panel tasked with selecting the next president nominated Hashimoto after former head Yoshiro Mori resigned last week over sexist remarks he made. The committee will ask Hashimoto on Thursday if she will accept the nomination. 

Hashimoto avoided comment on the nomination, calling it a "personal matter," according to Kyodo. If she accepts the offer, the organizing committee council will officially appoint her the new chief on the same day.

Hashimoto, 56, was a seven-time Olympian as a speed skater in the winter and track cyclist in the summer. After making her debut at the Sarajevo Winter Games in 1984, she went on to compete in more Olympics than any other Japanese woman.

In 1995, at the age of 30, Mori asked her to run for election as a candidate of his Liberal Democratic Party.

In the wake of the Mori controversy, the organizing committee set up a team to search for a new president. Fujio Mitarai, honorary president of Tokyo 2020, took the helm of the panel, which consisted of equal numbers of women and men in a nod to gender equality.

The turmoil comes less than six months before the Olympics are due to start, however, and as the coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten the plans.

Tokyo 2020's criteria for selecting a new president included "profound knowledge of the Olympics," "deep understanding of gender equality, diversity and inclusion," and "experience on the global stage."

Last Thursday, Mori was reported to have offered the job to Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, a former Japan Football Association president. However, the vague selection process drew further domestic criticism, and Kawabuchi declined the offer the next day.

Mori on Friday officially announced his resignation after his sexist remarks drew condemnation around the world. During a Feb. 3 meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee in Tokyo, he had said that board meetings with women "take so much time." Because of women's "strong sense of competition," he said, "if one person raises their hand, others probably think, 'I need to say something, too.'"

Mori withdrew his comments the next day and apologized, but the pressure from the public for him to step down did not abate.

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