TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee is about to get a new president — and it looks like it will be a woman.
According to a report in Japan, the job will be offered to 56-year-old Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto.
Hashimoto, who could be named this week, would replace Yoshiro Mori, who was forced to resign last week after he made demeaning comments about women. He said, essentially, that women talk too much.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency, citing a unnamed person “familiar with the matter,” said a selection committee will ask Hashimoto to take the job. The committee, headed by 85-year-old Fujio Mitarai of the camera company Canon, was scheduled to meet again on Thursday.
Hashimoto won a bronze medal in speedskating at the 1992 Albertville Olympics. She also competed in cycling in the Summer Olympics.
Naming a woman could be breakthrough in Japan, where females are under-represented in boardrooms and in politics. Japan ranks 121st out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s annual gender equality ranking.
Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, offered the job last week to 84-year-old Saburo Kawabuchi, a former head of the country’s soccer federation. But reports of the behind-closed-door deal were widely criticized by social media, on Japanese talk shows, and in newspaper reports.
Kawabuchi quickly withdrew from further consideration.
Two other former Olympians were also reported to have been in the running: Yasuhiro Yamashita, the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee who won gold in judo in 1984, and Mikako Kotani, who won two bronze medals in synchronized swimming at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Kotani is the sports director for the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee. That committee’s leadership is dominated by men, who make up 80% of the executive board.
Hashimoto would inherit a tough job. Polls show about 80% of Japanese people want the Olympics canceled or postponed. They have reacted to the risks around holding the Olympics during a pandemic, and the soaring costs. The official cost is $15.4 billion, but government audits have suggested its more than $25 billion.
Japan, which has controlled the coronavirus better than most developed countries, began to roll out vaccines on Wednesday. It is several months behind Britain and the United States.
The Olympics are to open on July 23 with 11,000 athletes, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24 with 4,400 athletes. The plan is to keep the athletes in a “bubble” at the Athletes Village, at venues and at training areas.
In addition to the athletes, tens of thousands of officials, media, sponsors and broadcasters will also have to enter Japan. Many of them will operate outside the “bubble.”
Also on Wednesday, a governor in a western Japanese prefecture threatened to cancel the torch relay in his area. Gov. Tatsuya Maruyama of Shimane prefecture said he was unhappy with COVID-19 prevention measures surrounding the relay. His prefecture has been largely untouched by the pandemic but he fears that could change.
“Tokyo has been the source of the nationwide infections,” Maruyama said in a briefing Wednesday. “This also affects Shimane.”
He added it “may threaten out daily life.”
The relay is to pass through the small prefecture in May.
The torch relay is to begin March 25 in northeastern Japan and will crisscross the country with about 10,000 runners. The relay ends in Tokyo.
In another event on Wednesday, local organizers, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee ended three days of virtual meetings centered on measures to deal with COVID-19 during the Olympics.
It was a followup to the rollout of the so-called Playbooks two weeks ago. The first edition of the Playbooks was vague, but the next two editions in April and June will give specific details about how the Olympics can happen during a pandemic.
Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, called the first edition “a framework.”
“We now have to go much deeper into the details,” Dubi said, “down to every specific area in every single venue for each of the stakeholders.”
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