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'Just replacing Tokyo Games chief won't solve problem,' Japanese Olympian warns

Yuko Arimori, a two-time Olympic medalist in the women's marathon, is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on July 31, 2020. (Mainichi/Emi Naito)

TOKYO -- While Yoshiro Mori announced his resignation as president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games on Feb. 12 to take responsibility for his sexist remarks, Yuko Arimori, a two-time Olympic medalist in the women's marathon, warns that just replacing the president would not be a fundamental solution to the problem.

    "If they think they can get away with it just by replacing the president (of the organizing committee), the same problem would be repeated," Arimori, 54, said during a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, referring to the move to appoint a new committee president following Mori's formal resignation. The exchange took place before Mori officially announced on Feb. 12 that he will step down.

    "The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a festival to wish for peace for people's bodies and minds through sports events. They are different from world championships and other competitions to decide the world's best athletes. Not only athletes but all those involved in the (Olympic and Paralympic) games are the main actors, and the games are also an opportunity with educational value to raise issues to the whole world," said Arimori, a winner of the silver medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

    "In particular, the upcoming Tokyo Games aim to contribute to the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the principle of gender equality, for the first time in the history of the Summer Games. This goal was aimed at allowing respect for diversity to take root in Japanese society. Mr. Mori's recent remarks ran counter to those principles," she said.

    Arimori, also a winner of the International Olympic Committee's Women and Sport Awards in 2010 for her contribution to women's participation in sports among other merits, continued, "The question here was whether Mr. Mori understood empathy for society today and the Olympic principles. For this reason, his understanding that he could get away with it just by retracting his remarks that 'board meetings with many women in them drag on' was insufficient.

    "This issue poses a challenge to not only Mr. Mori but also all concerned bodies including the organizing committee. Tokyo made a successful bid for the games precisely because it understood the Olympic principles. That being so, I believe it has become the mandate to demonstrate how many personnel there are in the organizing committee who understand those principles and are willing to send out messages to society carefully with a greater passion.

    "Whether Mr. Mori resigns or stays on, nothing would change unless the organizing committee understands the fundamental implications of the latest problem. If they think they can get away with it just by replacing the president, the same problem would be repeated. The organizing committee must deliver messages carefully that can reach out to all corners of society, regarding what it is aiming to achieve and what kind of principles it espouses. Otherwise, the situation would not change.

    "This is an important matter regardless of whether we can hold the Olympics or not. Unless Tokyo can propagate the Olympic principles that are firmly committed to society, the future of the Olympics would be in peril. It appears the focus now is solely on the fate of Mr. Mori, and what really matters has been disregarded," she said.

    (Japanese original by Yuta Kobayashi, Sports News Department)

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