Seiko Hashimoto has been appointed Tokyo Olympic President after accepting the vacant role following the resignation of Yoshiro Mori last week.

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Hashimoto said she had met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and had stepped down as Olympics Minister before taking up the position as head of the Organizing Committee for the postponed Games. The 56-year-old Olympic speed skating bronze medalist had been proposed for the job by the Candidate Selection Committee tasked with choosing Mori’s successor but was reportedly initially reluctant to accept.

“I will spare no effort for the success of the Tokyo Games,” Hashimoto said.

Appointing a woman to the role is a highly significant move following the departure of Mori, who resigned after causing an uproar with sexist comments about women. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said appointing a female to lead the Organizing Committee “sends a very important signal about gender equality”.

Hashimoto, who had previously faced allegations of sexual harassment at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, was reportedly one of three candidates shortlisted by the Selection Committee. Japanese media reported Yasuhiro Yamashita, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee and gold medalist in judo at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

The Selection Committee, headed by 85-year-old Canon chief executive Fujio Mitarai, fast-tracked its process to find a replacement for Mori, with the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics set to open in just over five months. It was established after the 83-year-old former Japanese Prime Minister bowed to widespread pressure and resigned as Olympic 2020 President following his sexist remarks when he suggested women talk too much.

As the former Minister of State for Gender Equality and Minister in Charge of Women’s Empowerment, I look forward to her using the Games as a platform to advance the diversity and inclusion agenda, not just in terms of gender, but sexuality, race and, importantly, persons with disabilities.

The sexism row marked the latest crisis for organizers of the first postponed Olympic and Paralympic Games and came amid renewed concerns over whether the event would go ahead following a surge in COVID-19 cases across the world.

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Hashimoto’s seven Olympic Games are a record for a Japanese woman, after her career as a speed skater and a cyclist. She was best known for speed skating, competing on the ice at four Winter Olympics and winning bronze over 1500 meters in Albertville in 1992.

On the bike, Hashimoto competed at three Summer Olympics without winning a medal. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who publicly criticized Mori’s comments before he resigned, Hashimoto became embroiled in her controversy at Sochi 2014 when she was seen kissing and embracing figure skater Daisuke Takahashi at a party.

Hashimoto denied the allegations and Takahashi said he had not been harassed, although she later issued an apology. Back then as well as today, I am still reflecting on myself and what I have done and what it has evolved into.

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