After top Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee announced she was suffering from leukemia, calls of support flooded in from within Japan and abroad. But amid this support, the minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics made a comment that was nothing short of inconsiderate.
In response to the news about the Olympic hopeful's illness on Feb. 12, Yoshitaka Sakurada told reporters, "I'm really disappointed," and added, "I'm worried that the swell (for the Games) might go down a bit."
Sakurada did also say he wanted Ikee "to focus on receiving treatment and fully recover." Nevertheless, expressing his "disappointment" when the 18-year-old athlete was waiting for detailed medical tests is nothing but thoughtless.
What was Sakurada disappointed about? Judging from his other statements such as "She is a potential gold medalist" and "She is someone Japan should be proud of," he was disappointed because Ikee's chance of winning a medal had decreased. And he made those remarks after the swimmer herself had expressed eagerness to return to the pool in the future.
Does he think that athletes are just pawns producing a swell for the games? From his comments one could certainly imagine so.
For politicians, words are critical. They should always think how their words will be perceived. Sakurada apologized and retracted his statements on Feb. 13, but that is not the end of the story.
Since his assumption of his post last fall, Sakurada has repeatedly made awkward and confused replies to questions during Diet sessions. And despite his other responsibility of ensuring the nation's cybersecurity, the minister lacked knowledge in that particular area, and many questioned his qualification to serve in the portfolio. In recent news conferences, he has frequently failed to field questions and depended on advice from bureaucrats beside him.
Perhaps it is difficult for him to continue as a Cabinet minister.
In the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Masahiro Imamura, a former minister in charge of reconstruction following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, was fired in 2017 after he said it was a "good thing" that the massive quake hit the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan. However, other gaffes by Cabinet members have been swept under the carpet as those politicians excused themselves by saying that their remarks were "misunderstood."
Earlier in this month, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso drew fire for implying that Japan's low birth rate and aging are problems caused by "those who don't have children." Aso has made gaffes time and again because the administration never had him face up to his responsibility.
Does Prime Minister Abe really think that Sakurada is fit for the job?