Tokyo Olympic president tries to assure Japan on safety of holding Games

Seiko Hashimoto, the new president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, is holding weekly news conferences hoping to win over a doubtful Japanese public with the Games starting in less than five months. Polls show about 80 per cent of Japanese think the games should be postponed again or cancelled amid the pandemic.

Seiko Hashimoto holding news conferences to win over doubtful public

President of the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee Seiko Hashimoto says people need to start building confidence in the safety of the Games. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The new president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has begun holding weekly news conferences hoping to win over a doubting Japanese public with the postponed games opening in just under five months.

Seiko Hashimoto is trying to assure everyone that the Olympics will be safe and secure, a phrase she repeated a dozen times Friday in her inaugural news conference.

Polls show about 80 per cent of Japanese think the games should be postponed again or cancelled amid the pandemic.

"The situation around coronavirus doesn't go easy on us," Hashimoto said. "I understand there are a lot of people in Tokyo and in Japan who have concerns about the games in Tokyo this summer. I'd like to share my thoughts and alleviate some of those concerns."

She also needs to ease fears about the torch relay, which is set to begin on March 25 from the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima. The relay involves 10,000 runners and goes to every corner of Japan.

The Olympics open on July 23, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24. They will include 11,000 Olympians, 4,400 Paralympic athletes and tens of thousands of judges, officials, sponsors, volunteers, VIPs, media and broadcasters.

"People need to start to build confidence in the safety of the games," Hashimoto said. "It will be very difficult without that."

Hashimoto said she has appointed CEO Toshiro Muto to head the relay effort. The Olympics were postponed a year ago just as the torch relay opened. If the relay falters with crowding, cheering spectators and unprepared local authorities, the Olympics could go down with it.

Early conjecture hinted at calling off the relay, but it is heavily sponsored by Coca-Cola and Toyota. Sponsors and the sale of broadcast rights account for 91% of the International Olympic Committee's income.

Decision to be made on fans

Hashimoto has promised to make a decision on admitting fans from abroad by March 25, or at least by the end of the month. The Mainichi newspaper reported this week, citing an unnamed government source, that foreign fans will not be allowed. IOC President Thomas Bach also hinted at the decision going that way.

Hashimoto has not confirmed it.

"Welcoming everyone globally and having a full audience is something we wish we could do," she said. "But health-care conditions in Japan have to be well prepared. Otherwise, some people may come as spectators and cause harm."

Push for gender equality

Hashimoto took over two weeks ago after the former president of the organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, was forced to resign following derogatory comments about women. Hashimoto almost immediately appointed 12 women to the executive board, bringing the total to 19 out of 45, or 42 per cent. It had been 20 per cent.

Tokyo was awarded the Olympics 7 1/2 years ago and had few women in visible positions of authority until Hashimoto shook things up.

Hashimoto said she hoped the move put a focus on the issue of gender equality in Japan. The country ranks 121st of 153 on the World Economic Forum's gender-equality ratings.

"People in the world are now paying attention to gender issues, diversity issues on the organizing committee," she said. "The quick response is very important. And that was the premise of us taking action. But increased numbers or an increased percentage should not be the main goal."

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?