Tokyo Olympics: Sexism scandal unfolding again as another official resigns over derogatory remark

In yet another setback for the postponed Tokyo Olympics and another involving comments about women the Games' creative director, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned on Thursday after making demeaning comments about a well-known female celebrity in Japan.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to open in just over four months, dogged by the coronavirus pandemic, record costs, and numerous scandals. And all of this converges as the Olympic torch relay starts next week from northeastern Japan, a risky venture with 10,000 runners set to criss-cross Japan for four months.

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded Japan the games 7 years ago, Tokyo billed itself as a safe pair of hands. It has evolved into anything but that.

Japanese organisers did well with initial planning and organisation. But they have been buffeted by the pandemic and seem snake-bitten with the Olympics causing new problems and more expenses almost daily. Support has plummeted with various polls suggesting about 80 per cent of Japanese want the Olympics cancelled or postponed again. They cite the costs and the risks of holding the mega-event during a pandemic.

The IOC and Japanese politics are male-dominated territories, Dr Barbara Holthus, deputy director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo, told The Associated Press. Japanese politicians have a long history of furthering gender inequalities besides many other inequalities.

* Seiko Hashimoto named new Tokyo Olympics president after former boss quits over sexist comments
* Tokyo Olympics organising committee boss set to resign over sexist remarks
* To cancel or not?: IOC, Japan to press ahead with Tokyo Olympics despite public antipathy

In February, the president of the organising committee, Yoshiro Mori, was forced to resign after making sexist comments, saying women talk too much in meetings.

Two years ago, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, was also forced to step down in a bribery scandal connected to vote-buying involving IOC members.

Tokyo Olympics creative director Hiroshi Sasaki is resigning after making demeaning comments about a well-known female celebrity.

Sasaki was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on July 23. He also designed the Tokyo handover ceremony at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and arranged a one-year-to-go event in July at Tokyo's new National Stadium.

Last year he suggested to planning staff members in online brainstorming exchanges that well-known entertainer Naomi Watanabe could perform in the ceremony as an Olympig.

Watanabe is a heavy-set young woman, a fashion icon, and very famous in Japan. Sasaki's Olympig reference was an obvious play on the word Olympic.

The story was first reported by the weekly magazine Bunshun, and the corresponding controversy took off almost instantly.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike called Sasaki's comments extremely embarrassing.

Sasaki made a derogatory remark about Naomi Watanabe, a Japanese entertainer.

When we are talking about what we deliver from Tokyo, or from Japan, we shouldnt be sending a negative message, Koike said on Thursday.

Sasaki released a statement saying he was stepping down. He said he had also called Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organising committee, and tendered his resignation.

For Ms Naomi Watanabe, my idea and comments are a big insult. And it is unforgivable, Sasaki said. I offer my deepest regrets and apologise from the depth of my heart to her, and those who may have been offended by this.

It is truly regrettable, and I apologise from the bottom of my heart.

Eugene Hoshiko/AP
The Tokyo Olympics have faced numerous challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic and multiple scandals.

Hashimoto said in a Thursday news conference that she had accepted his resignation. She said a replacement would come quickly, and also indicated she had tried to persuade him to stay.

I did feel that way, but he explained, and his intention was very strong, Hashimoto said. That is how I felt. For those reasons I decided to accept his resignation.

Hashimoto also said she talked with IOC anggota John Coates, who oversees preparations for Tokyo.

The IOC also received the [magazine] article and they were quite concerned, Hashimoto said.

Hashimoto, who has appeared in seven Olympics and won a bronze medal in 1992, took over a month ago when Mori made similar sexist comments and was forced out. Hashimoto has acted quickly and appointed 12 women to the organising committee's executive board, increasing female membership to 42 per cent. It had been 20 per cent.

Kazuhiro Nogi/AP
Seiko Hashimoto is the president of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sasaki formerly worked for the giant Japanese advertising company Dentsu Inc, which has been a key supporter of these Olympics. It is the official marketing partner and has helped to raise a record of US$3.5 billion in local sponsorship, almost three times as much as any previous Olympics.

The torch relay for the Olympics kicks off next week from northeastern Japan and will be a severe test with 10,000 runners criss-crossing Japan for four months, heading to the opening ceremony and trying to avoid spreading Covid-19. Japan has controlled the virus better than most countries and has attributed about 8700 deaths to the virus.

Organisers and the IOC insist the Olympics will go forward during the pandemic with 11,000 Olympic and 4400 Paralympic athletes entering Japan. Official costs for Tokyo are US$15.4b (NZ$21.4 billion) but several government audits show the real cost might be twice that much.

A University of Oxford study says Tokyo is the most expensive Olympics on record.


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