The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has appointed Seiko Hashimoto as the new president, after Yoshiro Mori resigned last week due to sexist comments.
By selecting Hashimoto, an Olympic medalist in speedskating, the country is making a symbolic generational and gender shift for the Olympic committee, which had initially planned to name another octogenarian male leader, Saburo Kawabuchi, as Mori’s replacement.
Last week, he had told reporters he was ready to accept the offer to succeed Mori. However, the organizing committee was quick to change their course when critics pointed out Kawabuchi’s age, apparent support for corporal punishment of children, and that he has been suggested by Mori himself. Hashimoto’s appointment is proof of the growing influence of social media and Japanese activists in the country.
“In the past, he would have been just criticized, and then the issue would have ended. But this time he had to resign because a lot of criticism from women who raised their voices,” said Kazuyo Katsuma, a former businesswoman and best-selling book author on gender and work-life balance.
Hashimoto said during her first official appearance on Thursday that he main priority would be to implement measures to protect against the coronavirus at the Summer Games, and to make sure that both Japanese people and those from abroad are safe and secure while attending. Currently, the public opinion in Japan is still largely against holding the massive event, with around 80% saying it should either be cancelled or delayed again.
Hashimoto will also be working to establish a “gender equality promotion team” within the month. The new leader was the second member of Parliament in Japanese history to give birth while in office and, in order to help her, Parliament changed its rules to allow maternity leave. Hashimoto took one week off after the birth of her daughter.
Naomi Osaka, the Japanese Tennis plater who beat Serena Williams during the Australian Open semi-final, expressed her delight after the new appointment. “I feel like it’s really good because you’re pushing forward, barriers are being broken down, especially for females. We’ve had to fight for so many things just to be equal. Even a lot of things still aren’t equal,” she said.
“Now I’m here to return what I owe as an athlete,” Hashimoto told the organising committee’s male-dominated executive board. “As I’m taking on such a grave responsibility… I feel I need to brace myself.”