Tokyo Olympics chief needs some luck and a lot of pluck
In the time of Covid-19, seven-time Olympian Seiko Hashimoto has created a positive buzz but next month’s torch relay will be her first stern test
In handing over the reins of Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to seven-time Olympian Seiko Hashimoto, Japan will be hoping for some lady luck – besides her vast experience in sports, public life and administration – to a competition mired in crisis.
In exactly a month’s time, Hashimoto, who until now was serving as minister of state for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in the Japanese Cabinet, will have her first big task at hand: conducting a safe and secure torch relay. The Olympics torch relay will start from Fukushima Prefecture on March 25 and travel to 47 prefectures in 121 days before culminating at the grand opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo on July 23. With several prefectures in Japan still under a state of emergency due to a spike in cases, strict Covid-19 counter-measures have been announced for the relay.
Taking over as new head of the Games, after her predecessor, 83-year-old former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori resigned over sexist remarks, Hashimoto has brought positivity. International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach described her as the ‘prefect choice’ for the position as Tokyo enters the extremely difficult home stretch for the once-deferred Games scheduled from July 23 to August 8 this year.
Hashimoto’s name has origins in Olympic flame. Her tryst with the Games began with her birth in 1964 in Hokkaido, just five days before the opening of Tokyo Summer Olympics -- the first Games in Asia and an event where Japan presented a new image of itself as a peace-loving and resilient nation after world war trauma.
Awe-struck watching the opening ceremony of Tokyo 1964 at the National Stadium, Hashimoto’s father decided to name his new born Seiko, which is derived from “Orinpikku Seika” or Olympic flame in Japanese.
“I think for my whole life, the Olympics has been part of it. My father had the dream that his child would become an Olympian in the future. So, he gave me the name 'Seiko'. From then on, the Olympics has become my lifework,” said Hashimoto in an interview published by Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
When it came to the Olympics there was no stopping Hashimoto. She competed in speed skating at four Winter Olympics, from 1984-1994 and became the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal in Winter Games by finishing third in women's 1,500-metre speed skating at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. If that wasn’t enough, Hashimoto then took to cycling and participated in three Summer Olympics between 1988 and 1996.
First elected to the House of Councillors in 1995 Hashimoto charted out a successful career in politics, becoming a strong voice for women’s empowerment in Japan. In that sense, she has moved forward with urgency and put plans in place to boost the presence of women on the Tokyo 2020 Board to 40 per cent, a move welcomed by the IOC.
Public mood in Japan is against hosting the Games, opinion polls say. A survey also showed more than half of Japanese firms want the Games to be either cancelled or postponed.
Hashimoto knows the difficulties of the task at hand. “How can we get through the Covid-19 situation? What are the significance and values of hosting Tokyo 2020? These are the questions I am facing now. With the Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, I wish to show people the beauty of the athletes’ motion and the beauty rooted deeply within them,” she said.