Japan’s Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, has been appointed as the new president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee.
The 56-year-old Hashimoto will replace 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, who resigned last week after a leaked conversation revealed he made sexist comments about women.
A historian, Dr Bill Mallon, described Hashimoto’s seven appearances, four Winter Olympics and three Summer Olympics, as the highest by any “multi-season” athlete in the games.
Japanese women have not enjoyed equality in public offices as women are still not easy to come by in boardrooms and political positions.
“Now I’m here to return what I owe as an athlete and to return what I received,” she told the board, speaking through an interpreter in Japanese.
She stepped down as one of just two women in Japan’s cabinet today to take up the key post and announced that she would be replaced as Olympic minister by Tamayo Marukawa.
Hashimoto served as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Olympic minister and also held a portfolio dealing with gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Speaking on gender discrimination, Seiko vowed to contribute her quota in eradicating the segregation against Japanese women. She said that in a hall with a nearly all-male audience.
“As the background to my selection, I understand that there is a gender-parity related factor,” she said, promising to work on the issue.
Although the leader is now a woman, the issue of gender inequity in Japan remains.
Seiko Hashimoto competed in three Summer Olympics (’88, ‘92 and ’96) in cycling and in four Winter Olympics (’84, ’88, ‘92 and ’94) in speed-skating. She won a bronze medal, her only medal, in 1992 in at 1,500 meters in speed-skating.
Speaking on Hashimoto’s appointment after her semifinal tennis victory over Serena Williams at the Australian Open, Japan-born Naomi Osaka said “you’re seeing the newer generation not tolerate a lot of things.
“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 we still aren’t equal.”
Mori, before stepping down, tried to offer 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.