How Kawabuchi stepped back from Tokyo Games post

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, left, and Saburo Kawabuchi attend the emergency meeting of the committee on Friday afternoon in Chuo Ward, Tokyo.

Saburo Kawabuchi, who recently appeared set to take the helm of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, denied on Friday that he had turned the position down, only to turn it down after all at a committee meeting later the same day.

Kawabuchi, an advisor to the Japan Football Association, was positive, as of Friday morning, about becoming the next president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, having reportedly been tapped to assume the post by outgoing committee President Yoshiro Mori.

Around noon on Friday, some news media began reporting that he intended to decline the offer. Hearing this, Kawabuchi expressed his displeasure to those around him, telling them: “I haven’t said anything. That’s fake news.”

By then, however, events had taken on a certain momentum.

It was Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga who effectively put a hold on Kawabuchi’s succeeding Mori. According to government sources, after reports emerged that Mori, having announced his resignation as committee president, intended to name Kawabuchi as his successor, those close to Suga conveyed his thinking to the committee: “It is indispensable for the committee to select its president with transparency and by the rules. The successor should preferably be a woman.”

Until then, the government had taken a position of not getting involved with the personnel affairs of the organizing committee in connection with Mori’s inappropriate remarks about women. Yet it could not overlook a situation that would fuel both domestic and international criticism over an opaque selection process for a successor.

It was on Thursday when movement began on the selection of the next president of the committee.

Mori, 83, told those around him that he would step down from his post to take responsibility for having made inappropriate remarks about women. On Thursday afternoon, he invited Kawabuchi, 84, to the building that houses Mori’s condominium. Mori asked Kawabuchi to succeed him, reportedly saying, “If you would accept this, everything would come out well.”

Kawabuchi had originally taken the post of the head of the athletes’ village for the Games, at Mori’s request. Kawabuchi reportedly thought someone younger than him should assume the presidential post, which carries far heavier responsibility than the post of head of the village. He is even said to have had someone in mind. Yet in response to the personal entreaty by Mori, with whom he has deep ties, he accepted the request, reportedly viewing it as “the last important duty of my life.”

As it came to be known that Mori had tapped Kawabuchi to succeed him, however, a flood of criticism arose. Kawabuchi received several phone calls from Toshiro Muto, 77, director general of the organizing committee, making Kawabuchi feel that he was tacitly being urged to decline Mori’s offer.

When Kawabuchi attended a preliminary meeting before the emergency meeting, slated to be held on Friday, with the attendance of the councillors and the executive board members of the committee, he learned that Mori had no authority to recommend a successor to the executive board, according to the articles of the association.

While there was opposition to the presidency being assumed by Kawabuchi, who is one year older than Mori, he also perceived the likelihood of his not being recommended as the candidate at the committee’s meeting to consider the next president, prompting him to decline to assume the post.

It was just one day after his conversation with Mori. At the emergency meeting on Friday, Kawabuchi raised his hand and offered not to assume the post. When questioned by reporters, Kawabuchi said, “It is contrary to my intention that I would be said to have the thing decided on behind closed doors. [Not to assume the post] would feel the best.”