Seven-time Olympian Seiko Hashimoto made history as the “multi-season” athlete who appeared in four winter Games and three summer ones. Now, she’s breaking barriers and making headlines again after it was announced that the 56-year-old legend will be president of the Tokyo Olympic organization committee.
In Japan it’s still rare to see women in executive positions of political power. In fact, the committee that Hashimoto is joining is 80% male. She’s replacing Yoshito Mori, the former Japanese prime minister who was forced into resignation last week after making sexist comments regarding women. Hashimoto spoke with the press recently about her excitement to take on this role.
“Now I’m here to return what I owe as an athlete and return back what I received.”
Hashimoto has been serving as the Olympic minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and also has a ton of experience dealing with issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment. She claimed that Tamayo Marukawa will be filling her role as Olympic minister while she transitions into her new position.
“Of course, it is very important what Tokyo 2020 as an organizing committee does about gender equality. I think it will be important for us to practice that equality,” Hashimoto said according to the translator present at the conference she spoke at this week. Hasimoto made these comments and discussed issues of gender inequality as she sat between two of the most powerful men on the committee.
She discussed how organizing committees are always male-dominated, and of the ones she’s seen have never had any female vice presidents, citing that the executive board is currently 80% male; for reference there’re around 3,500 employees working for the board. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach recently spoke with the media about how Hashimoto was “the perfect choice” for taking on this role.
“With the appointment of a woman as president, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee is also sending a very important signal with regard to gender equality.”
For some background, Hashimoto competed in cycling in the 1988, ‘92, and ‘96 Summer Olympics, and then transitioned to speedskating for the 1984, ‘88, ‘92, and ‘94 Winter Olympics. She only won one medal, a bronze at the 1992 Albertville Games in speedskating, however, her seven Olympic appearances are the most from any “multi-season” athlete in Olympic history, according to historian Dr. Bill Mallon.
Polls are currently showing that about 80% of the Japanese public want the Olympics to be postponed or cancelled due to concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, the thought of bringing tens of thousands of athletes from all over the world to one contained city seems like the worst idea in the middle of a global pandemic, however, it’s unclear whether or not the Games will be moved again.
Japan ranks 121 out of 153 on the World Economic Forum’s annual gender equality ranking when it comes to women in positions of power. Naming a woman as president will hopefully be the breakthrough Japan needs to rank higher on that list, and bring more women to the forefront of executive leadership.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.