With a month until the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, is earnestly hoping that the coronavirus pandemic will not stand in the way of hosting the global sporting showpiece and delivering a lasting positive impact on Japanese society and the rest of the world.
In an interview with Kyodo News, Hashimoto said she thinks the Japanese public is not yet convinced that the Olympics and the Paralympics can be held safely during a global health crisis, and pledged to continue explaining organizers' efforts to mitigate the risk of infections.
"I really want them to open without any major disruptions," Hashimoto said of the Olympics that will begin on July 23 following an unprecedented one-year postponement. "I think what needs to be done has become clear."
Referring to the organizing body's repeated promises to stage a "safe and secure" games, Hashimoto, an athlete-turned-politician, said, "Safety and security are inseparably linked to each other. I have always thought that people would not feel secure unless they fully understand that it is safe."
Hashimoto is familiar with the typical Olympic experience having competed at seven games as a speed skater and track cyclist, and was also an official in several Japanese delegations.
But she knows the Tokyo Olympics will look completely different from any other games that she has been to.
While there are countless challenges, the roughly 11,000 athletes will be tested for the virus on a daily basis, in principle, and interaction with others will be limited. Those who infringe COVID-19 rules will face penalties, ranging from fines to losing the right to compete in Tokyo.
The organizers have decided to also test tens of thousands of officials and workers for the virus and use smartphone GPS functions to manage the movements of those who are visiting from overseas, although questions about feasibility have been raised.
The International Olympic Committee has recommended vaccinations to further ensure safety.
Hashimoto expressed hope that the measures to be taken during the Olympics can provide an international "model" for how to welcome visitors from abroad and bring back social and economic activities, which have been largely halted since the virus spread around the world more than a year ago.
"I think this is the first time that the entire world has faced the same issue," the 56-year-old said. "To solve the issue, it's now time for Japan to take action."
"Everyone wants to reclaim their social lives as early as possible, even by a day, a minute or a second," she said. "We're showing by means of evidence it is absolutely possible for that to happen through the Olympics and Paralympics."
Born just five days before the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the first games staged in Asia, Hashimoto was named after the Japanese word "seika," which means Olympic flame.
Her late father was in the stands watching the opening ceremony at the old National Stadium and had hoped that one day his daughter would take part.
It was because of her games' experience and her previous government role as Olympic minister that she was tapped to take over as president of the committee in February after its former chief Yoshiro Mori stepped down following international criticism over sexist remarks.
While the upcoming Summer Games have not gained strong support from the public and the Japanese capital is not in a festive mood, Hashimoto said she believes her "mission is not to protect the Olympics, but to steer them in the right direction."
The Olympics have become larger and more commercialized over the years and had met with criticism even before the pandemic. She said countries had been able to host them without sufficient discussions regarding why the games should be held, which is "not a good thing."
But the pandemic has forced people to question why Tokyo must go ahead when the risks are not zero, and she believes it is now time to revisit the core values of the Olympics, including peace, equality and cultural exchanges.
"I love the Olympics and have thought that they are my life. So people around me think that I don't have anything other than the Olympics and that I am committed to holding them no matter what," she said.
"But that's not true. As a person who knows about the Olympics, it is the other way around. At any rate, I want to recover the original great aspects of the games."
Following Japan's defeat in World War II, the 1964 Tokyo Games have been remembered for driving economic growth and the building of new infrastructure, including the introduction of shinkansen bullet trains and an elevated highway in the capital.
Hashimoto said she wants this summer's games to be a "turning point" in shaping a more sustainable and inclusive society in which protection of the environment is vital, gender equality is embraced and everyone, regardless of differences and disabilities, can live at ease.
"I want people to think it was good that we went ahead with the Tokyo Games," she said. "I want people to say 'these things became common following that Tokyo Games.'"
Asked about the opening ceremony, Hashimoto said it will be smaller but "solemn" and she hopes that the show will make people's hearts jump and encourage them regarding the future.
"There is a month remaining to create this wonderful stage. But even after the games finish, my role will continue until I see how much value they have brought," she said.
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