New Tokyo Olympic president tries to assure Japan on safety

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Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020), speaks before reporters after a five-party meeting at the Tokyo 2020 headquarters in Tokyo on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Du Xiaoyi/Pool Photo via AP)

TOKYO – The new president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has begun holding weekly news conferences hoping to win over a doubting Japanese public with the postponed games opening in just under five months.

Seiko Hashimoto is trying to assure everyone that the Olympics will be safe and secure, a phrase she repeated a dozen times Friday in her inaugural news conference.

Polls show about 80% of Japanese think the games should be postponed again or canceled amid the pandemic.

“The situation around coronavirus doesn't go easy on us,” Hashimoto said. “I understand there are a lot of people in Tokyo and in Japan who have concerns about the games in Tokyo this summer. I'd like to share my thoughts and alleviate some of those concerns."

She also needs to ease fears about the torch relay, which is set to begin on March 25 from the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima. The relay involves 10,000 runners and goes to every corner of Japan.

The Olympics open on July 23, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24. They will include 11,000 Olympians, 4,400 Paralympic athletes and tens of thousands of judges, officials, sponsors, volunteers, VIPs, media and broadcasters.

“People need to start to build confidence in the safety of the games,” Hashimoto said. “It will be very difficult without that.”

Hashimoto said she has appointed CEO Toshiro Muto to head the relay effort. The Olympics were postponed a year ago just as the torch relay opened. If the relay falters with crowding, cheering spectators and unprepared local authorities, the Olympics could go down with it.