Hashimoto, 56, takes over from former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, who resigned amid a furore over comments criticized as being sexist. At a news conference on Thursday, she vowed to prioritize people’s safety.
“The Tokyo Games are just five months away, and we have to secure safety for Japan and the world. The most important issue is coronavirus prevention,” she said.
Hashimoto revealed that she has already spoken with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach by phone. She says he gave her his full backing and expressed hope that Hashimoto will put her sporting and political experience to best use.
Hashimoto won bronze in speed skating at the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, in 1992. Five months later she was back in action at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, this time as a cyclist. In all, she appeared at seven Games and went on to become vice president of the Japan Olympic Committee.
She has also been active in politics for decades. Hashimoto won her first seat in the Japanese Diet in 1995. She became State Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2008 and has served as the minister in charge of the Tokyo Games since September 2019.
Former committee president Mori Yoshiro, 83, caused an international firestorm by saying meetings with women take too long because they talk too much.
After announcing he will step down, Mori attempted to appoint the 84-year-old former chairman of Japan's professional soccer league, Kawabuchi Saburo, as his replacement. That prompted even more criticism and calls for more transparency.
The committee took heed by launching a panel to select its new president. They said candidates would need to tick a number of boxes, including a deep knowledge of sports. the ability to reflect the ideals of the Olympic Charter and experience on the global stage. But they decided to hold the selection process behind closed doors, and withheld the names of most members, raising questions about that called-for transparency.
Hashimoto made it clear on Thursday that she intends to usher in a new era with greater focus on equality. “We hope to create a legacy that serves as an opportunity to build a society in which people coexist regardless of gender, disability, race and sexual orientation,” she said.
But Hashimoto is not without baggage herself. She faced allegations of sexual harassment at the Sochi Olympics while head of the Japanese delegation. Hashimoto responded to questions about it on Thursday, saying she deeply regrets the incident.
Scandals notwithstanding, the clock ticks on relentlessly. The torch relay is due to begin in March, with test competitions following soon after, from April.