Accomplished Japanese athlete-turned-politician Seiko Hashimoto has been chosen as president of the Tokyo Olympics Organizing committee.
She is replacing a man who resigned after setting off a furore with his sexist remarks.
Hashimoto, who competed in seven Summer and Winter Olympics as a cyclist and skater, now faces difficult questions with only a few months to go before the Olympics’ delayed start.
She must ensure athletes and officials are kept safe from the coronavirus, while also facing strong public opposition to the Games being held during the pandemic, Reuters reports.
Hashimoto announced her selection shortly after submitting her resignation as Olympics minister to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who encouraged her to make the Games successful.
“As someone with an athletic background, I will carry out a safe Games for both athletes and citizens,” she told a news conference.
She replaces Yoshiro Mori, an 83-year-old former prime minister, who resigned as Tokyo 2020 president last week after saying women talk too much, comments that a Tokyo 2020 executive said on Thursday had caused “indescribable damage”.
Her appointment was welcomed by the International Olympic Committee which had not demanded Mori’s resignation and had initially considered the case closed after his first apology and refusal to step down.
“With her great Olympic experience and having led Japan’s delegation to the Olympic Games multiple times, she is the perfect choice for this position,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a statement.
Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that more than 80% of Japanese do not believe the Games should be held this year due to the pandemic.
“I can imagine how tough it is for athletes with so many questions about whether they should even aim for the Olympics and Paralympics amid the pandemic,” she said.
Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index – the worst ranking gap among advanced countries – scoring poorly on women’s economic participation and political empowerment.