Seiko Hashimoto, the newly installed head of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee, asked its staff Friday to unite as "one team" for the success of this summer's games, amid the coronavirus pandemic and low public support for the sporting extravaganza.
A day after assuming her new post, Hashimoto, until then Japan's Olympic minister, is moving to advance preparations for the Summer Games following comments by her predecessor early this month that sparked a sexism row and disrupted the organizing committee's efforts just five months before the event's opening ceremony.
In her first speech to members of the committee, the 56-year-old said she understands how they felt conflicted working for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which have been gripped by diminishing public support.
"The committee should come together as one team and work toward winning the confidence of the Japanese people," she said in an online message. "By working together with the Tokyo and central governments to take sufficient measures against the coronavirus, it is my huge mission to hold a trusted Tokyo Games."
Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian, succeeded former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori as committee chief following his resignation last week after a worldwide uproar over sexist remarks.
In the face of criticism from Japanese opposition parties that the organizing committee and Olympics should be politically neutral, Hashimoto said Friday she would leave the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, making an about-face decision, but will continue serving as a lawmaker in the House of Councillors.
An official with knowledge of the situation said Hashimoto will not offer Mori a formal position linked to the games, which were postponed in 2020 for one year due to the pandemic.
Still, Hashimoto said at a press conference on Thursday that her predecessor is a "special person" and her "mentor" who showed her the way in the world of politics. She also said there will be times when she seeks the counsel of the 83-year-old former prime minister.
Mori has been heavily involved in promoting sports in Japan and played a key role in bringing the Rugby World Cup to the country in 2019.
The expression used by Hashimoto in her speech, "one team," was Japan's slogan for the tournament, which was picked as the country's buzzword of the year.
On Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike welcomed Hashimoto's appointment and that of Tamayo Marukawa as new Olympic minister.
"For Japan, it is possible to turn a pinch into an opportunity and start anew," she told reporters at the Tokyo metropolitan government building.
Koike said Japan "finally came close to the world standard" given that three key posts for Olympic affairs -- the governor, the president of the organizing committee and the Olympic minister -- are now held by women.
Mori's resignation on Feb. 12 came after he made disparaging remarks at a Japanese Olympic Committee gathering about women's participation in meetings, drawing fierce criticism at home and abroad.
Hashimoto, who had been doubling as minister for women's empowerment since 2019, has pledged to improve gender equality and increase female board members of the committee to 40 percent from around 20 percent at the moment.
Currently, only seven of the committee's 34 board members are women.
Naofumi Masumoto, a visiting professor of Olympic studies at Tokyo Metropolitan University, said Hashimoto should use her new role to narrow the gender gap and make progress on other aspects related to diversity beyond the 3,500-member committee, which can be regarded as one of the legacies of the Tokyo Games.
"The organizing committee has set 'unity in diversity' as the concept of the Tokyo Games, so she has to do more to have it take root in Japanese society," said Masumoto, also a visiting professor at Musashino University.
"Gender equality came to light after Mr. Mori's comments, but it is not the only issue. Other aspects like race, religion and disabilities need to be considered as well," he said.
Mori said at the Feb. 3 event involving JOC executives that meetings in which women take part tend to run long because women talk too much. He also suggested that women should have their speaking time restricted.