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Olympics minister makes gaffe over N. Korea taking part in Tokyo games

Yoshitaka Sakurada, minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, speaks at a news conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Nov. 6, 2018. (Pool photo)

TOKYO -- Yoshitaka Sakurada, the novice minister in charge of Olympic and Paralympic preparations, told a news conference on Nov. 6 that whether North Korea will participate in the 2020 Tokyo Games is "outside my jurisdiction," but a bureaucrat corrected his remark shortly afterward.

Sakurada, a new member of the fourth Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched on Oct. 2, is already under fire for fumbling numerous questions and requiring frequent support from his bureaucratic aides during a House of Councillors Budget Committee session the day before.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed enthusiasm about North Korea's participation in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in a meeting with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach in March this year. The IOC said it would support Pyongyang's participation in the games.

When asked about North Korea's hopes to take part in the global event at a news conference following a regular Cabinet meeting on Nov. 6, Sakudara said, "I can't comment on the matter because I don't know about it."

With regard to immigration procedures for North Korean athletes and others, Sakurada said, "Well, the government will decide on the matter at the prime minister's office, the Foreign Ministry and other organizations. That's not what I should talk about."

In response to a question about whether the minister tasked with coordination within the government over the games is not in charge of deciding whether North Korea will participate, Sakurada said, "I think it's not my responsibility."

After the news conference, a bureaucrat explained that the minister "made the remark to the effect that he isn't in a position to make a final decision since the IOC and others are supposed to decide on participation in the games," adding that the minister did not mean that he was not responsible for the matter.

In response to a question about the fact that he struggled to answer questions in the Nov. 5 Diet session, Sakurada said, "There was a legislator who asked me a question, which I wasn't notified of in advance. To improve the quality of discussions, I'd like legislators to notify me of the content of their questions." He was referring to Renho, secretary-general of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan's upper house caucus.

Renho argued that she asked the questions based on materials she had received from the government office concerned in response to her advance notice of her questions.

"I'd like to have proper debate. The budget for the Olympics has snowballed considerably. I'm worried about the situation," Renho said.

(Japanese original by Miaki Tsuburaya, Sports News Department)

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