Japan’s Olympics minister, Seiko Hashimoto, is in line to lead the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, just over five months before the delayed Games are due to open, according to media reports.
The committee, which is already battling public opposition to the Olympics because of the Covid-19 pandemic, was forced to search for a new president after its previous head, Yoshiro Mori, resigned last week after making derogatory remarks about women.
A panel set up to find a replacement agreed on Wednesday that Hashimoto, who has represented Japan at seven summer and winter Olympics as a track cyclist and speed skater, should be offered the position, the public broadcaster NHK said.
The government’s top spokesman, Katsunobu Kato, said he was aware of the speculation surrounding Hashimoto, but that the committee was an independent body that made its own decisions.
Olympics officials are hoping that the appointment of Hashimoto, one of several women named in the media as potential candidates, will draw a line beneath the Mori sexism row and allow them to focus on the myriad problems confronting the Games.
The panel, which is made up of an equal number of men and women, could approach Hashimoto later this week after its choice is approved by the organising committee’s executive board, the Kyodo news agency said.
It also cited sources as saying, however, that Hashimoto, who became Olympics minister in 2019, had privately voiced doubts about taking up the post.
Days after Mori stepped down, preparations for the Games suffered a further blow on Wednesday when a local governor said his prefecture was considering withdrawing from the torch relay, which is due to begin late next month.
Tatsuya Maruyama, the governor of Shimane prefecture, said the relay should be reconsidered because of the virus.
“Should the present conditions continue, I think holding the Olympics should be avoided,” he told reporters. “But given this situation where those who were meant to create an environment where we could safely enjoy the Olympics have not done what they need to do … I can’t help but say that it would be hard for Shimane to contribute to the hosting of the Olympic torch relay.”
He said he was not calling for the relay to be cancelled yet, but for conditions to be watched over the next month or so.
About 10,000 runners are expected to carry the torch through Japan’s 47 prefectures, passing through 859 locations over 121 days before the opening ceremony at Tokyo’s national stadium on 23 July. Shimane, on the Japan Sea coast, is due to host the event in mid-May.
Hashimoto’s greatest Olympic achievement was a bronze medal in the women’s 1,500m speed skating event at the 1992 Albertville winter Games.