The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun
Urgent Games issues await new president Hashimoto
With the Tokyo Olympics just about five months away, Seiko Hashimoto, who was approved Thursday as the new president of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, needs to tackle key issues in rapid succession.
The organizing committee has yet to show prefectural governments how to implement measures against the novel coronavirus for the Olympic Torch Relay, which will start in Fukushima Prefecture on March 25. The committee was scheduled to do that at the end of last year. However, it has yet to be realized partly because of the surge in infections around the year-end and New Year holiday season.
Another reason for the delay was the disruption caused by former committee President Yoshiro Mori’s inappropriate remarks widely seen as discriminatory against women.
The biggest issue is whether to limit the number of spectators at Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games venues. The original plan is for all seats in the venues to be open to all spectators from around the world. Alternatives would be to have only 50% of the seats in the venues available to spectators, or to hold the Games without spectators.
“The deadline for deciding whether to accept foreign visitors is the end of March,” a senior member of the organizing committee said.
According to this member, about 900,000 tickets have been sold, and many ticket holders are thought to have already booked hotels. If they cancel their hotel bookings after April, cancellation fees are expected to be charged. For this reason, the committee needs to make a decision on this issue before then.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said last month that 25% of the Olympic qualification spots will be determined by qualifying events postponed by the pandemic. In Japan, for example, the artistic swimming qualifier scheduled for March has been postponed.
The Japanese government is currently suspending exemptions that allow the entry of foreign athletes. The organizing committee was scheduled to discuss the issue at a four-way meeting with the IOC, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the central government in mid-February so that athletes could enter Japan for qualification events.
However, Mori’s inappropriate remarks threw the committee into disorder, leaving the meeting schedule in limbo.
“This is an important time to decide the outline of the Games. There are many issues that need to be discussed and coordinated with the IOC, and the metropolitan and central governments,” a senior member of the committee said. “There is no time to waste.”
COMMITMENT TO GENDER EQUALITY
“I feel humbled,” Hashimoto said at the extraordinary meeting of the committee’s executive board where her appointment was approved. “I want to keep this feeling in my heart as I work for the success of the Games.”
She also said that by the end of this month she wanted to increase the ratio of women on the executive board and establish a team to promote gender equality.
“The gender equality issue was behind my decision to take on the president’s role,” she said, emphasizing her commitment to regaining the trust lost by the Tokyo Games organizing committee because of Mori’s comments.
Later during a press conference Hashimoto said: “It was a difficult decision to make, but I heard from many athletes. To have the event move forward, I thought it was necessary for me to take on the responsibility and that is why I made the decision.”
After she informed International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach of her appointment, she said that the IOC, which requires political neutrality, had allowed her to remain as a member of the House of Councillors while serving as president.
She also made an appeal to those who had declined to be volunteers or torchbearers, saying, “If you would like to be a part of 2020 once again, I would be happy to make preparations for your participation.”
Hashimoto was an Olympian in the Winter Games and Summer Games, participating in seven Olympics. Among the key positions she has held in the sports world are vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and head of the Japan Skating Federation. (Feb. 20)