Japan’s Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto has been chosen as the top candidate to replace Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori after he resigned over a sexism row, reports said Wednesday. The panel charged with selecting Mori’s replacement met for a second day, with multiple major Japanese media outlets reporting its members had settled on Hashimoto as best suited to the job. Hashimoto, 56, is a seven-time Olympian who competed at both winter and summer Games, and is currently one of just two women in Japan’s cabinet. Public broadcaster NHK, citing unnamed sources, said the selection committee had “narrowed down the candidates to Minister Hashimoto” after meeting behind closed doors.
The panel is now preparing to ask Hashimoto to take up the position, NHK said. But she has reportedly been reluctant to take on Mori’s job just over five months before the virus-postponed Games.
Tokyo 2020 declined to comment on any decision, but said a third selection panel meeting would be held on Thursday.
“At the first meeting yesterday, the committee agreed upon five criteria governing the qualities required of the new president. At today’s session, attended by all committee members, specific candidates were discussed,” it said.
“As today’s discussions focused on the attributes of specific candidates, we will explain the selection process once the new president is declared.”
The IOC, IPC and Tokyo organisers are also holding a joint meeting later Wednesday on anti-virus measures, but it was unclear if an announcement on the new boss would be made following their talks.
Earlier reports speculated that other sports figures were being considered, including Japan Olympic Committee chief Yasuhiro Yamashita and Tokyo 2020 sports director Mikako Kotani.
Mori resigned last week after a public outcry at remarks he made claiming women talk too much in meetings.
Tokyo 2020 organisers said they would work to find a replacement quickly — seeking a candidate with Olympic and Paralympic experience, among other criteria.
Organisers are battling public scepticism about the Games due to the pandemic, with around 80 percent of people in Japan opposed to holding the Games this year.
Following Mori’s sexist remarks, Hashimoto said she wanted to hold “thorough discussions” with the Tokyo Olympics boss about his views.
“The Olympics’ fundamental principle is to promote women’s advancement in sport at all levels and organisations in order to realise gender equality,” she said.
But Hashimoto is no stranger to controversy herself.
In 2014, she faced a sexual harassment scandal after photos emerged of her hugging and kissing a male figure skater over 20 years her junior.
Hashimoto apologised for any “misunderstanding” over the photos and the skater said he did not consider he had been harassed by the married minister.
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