Japan replaces Olympics Minister after latest gaffe

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has today (Thursday) named Shunichi Suzuki as his new Olympics Minister and said his under-fire administration will make renewed efforts to regain the public’s trust after the former holder of the position resigned following the latest in a series of controversial remarks.

Yoshitaka Sakurada came under considerable criticism after he stated on Wednesday that securing the re-election of fellow Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member Hinako Takahashi in Iwate was “more important than the recovery (of the region)” following the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Organisers of the Tokyo 2020 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games have sought to use the event as a focal point to demonstrate recovery efforts in the region, but the government’s efforts have been criticised ahead of local elections across Japan on April 21 and the House of Councillors election scheduled for July.

Sakurada comments on Wednesday were not the first time that he has made ill-advised remarks. He has previously admitted that while he had heard of the Olympic Charter, he has never read it, while comments he made in November that he had limited experience with computers also hit the headlines. Part of his remit was overseeing Japan’s anti-hacking preparations for the 2020 Games in his role as the government’s cybersecurity chief.

Sakurada’s departure means a return to the role of Olympics Minister for Suzuki, who had served in the position from 2017 to 2018. “The whole of our Cabinet will make utmost efforts to regain trust and work toward the recovery (of the disaster-stricken areas),” Abe said today, according to Japanese news agency Kyodo. “We should sincerely accept this criticism. All Cabinet ministers need to take the situation seriously and be even more diligent.”

Suzuki added: “The comments (from Sakurada) were inappropriate, hurting the feelings of people in the disaster-hit areas.”

The Olympics Minister reshuffle comes after Tsunekazu Takeda, the embattled president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, last month confirmed that he will stand down from his role rather than seeking re-election in June, following bribery and corruption allegations linked to the 2020 Olympic bid.