Japan’s Para Athletics Chief Discusses Her Ideal for Gender Equality

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Akemi Masuda

Japan Para Athletics Chairperson Akemi Masuda said Sunday that her ideal is to run the organization to the advantage of both sexes.

Masuda, 57, a former Olympic marathoner, spoke with The Yomiuri Shimbun on the eve of International Women’s Day, which was established by the United Nations to improve women’s status in society and is marked annually on March 8.

Masuda has been the JPA chairperson for two years and nine months.

In February, Yoshiro Mori resigned as president of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Committee after making remarks that were viewed as discriminatory against women.

Seiko Hashimoto was appointed the new president, and one of her first initiatives was to add 12 female members to the committee board.

“What [Mori] said cannot be accepted,” Masuda said. Seeing the positive side of the lively discussions on the matter, she added, “It’s a good thing that women can now play a more active role.”

Yet she also said, “It’s necessary to have a woman’s perspective, but I think there are some things only men can do. I prefer an organization in which men and women share roles appropriately and generate harmony naturally.”

In September last year, during a time when sports events were regularly being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Masuda led a successful national para athletic championship by taking thorough measures to prevent infections.

This is a result of her treating JPA staff as colleagues — rather than being overbearing toward them — and creating an environment that welcomes discussion on all matters.

Another vexing problem Masuda faces is spectators taking photographs of athletes with the intention to make them look obscene and then disseminating the pictures. Most of the victims are women.

“It’s been going on for decades,” Masuda said. “When I ask athletes about the predicament, some of them even told me that they can’t focus on the competition or they want to quit altogether. I feel sorry for them,” she said.

Masuda has called on the entire para sports community to take the initiative and solve the problem.

“Becoming a vitamin pill for the organization to take action — that’s my role as a leader,” she said.