Mori heads Tokyo 2020 organizing committee

Mori heads Tokyo 2020 organizing committee

Published Jan. 24, 2014 3:43 a.m. ET

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, aged 76, was officially appointed head of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic organizing committee on Friday.

Mori initially rejected the request, citing his age, but agreed to accept the post after no other suitable candidates from the Japan business community came forward.

Instead of downplaying his age and history of verbal gaffes, Mori raised eyebrows by admitting he may not even be alive in 2020. ''If all goes well, I'm destined to live maybe five or six more years,'' Mori was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency after agreeing to accept the post.

Mori also is president of the Japan Rugby Football Union, which is organizing the 2019 Rugby World Cup.


Because of his age, many in Japan have come to question his ability to fill a very demanding role.

The most recent Olympics in London were headed by 57-year-old Seb Coe, the former two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion who drew praise for his intense workload.

At a news conference on Friday, Mori said, ''I am honored to have been selected. And I am fully committed to ensuring that we will deliver fantastic games that will showcase the power of sport and further enhance Olympic values.''

Mori served as prime minister for one year from April 2000. He was criticized for continuing a round of golf after receiving news that the submarine USS Greeneville accidentally hit and sunk a Japanese fishing vessel in February 2001. The incident resulted in the death of nine students and teachers.

Mori helped Tokyo to be chosen for the 2020 Olympics but has a reputation for contentious comments and his brief period as prime minister was marked for its gaffes.

''He is known for his careless remarks,'' said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. ''Having him as chairman means there is a high risk of inappropriate comment.''

During his term, Mori described Japan as ''a nation of deities with the Emperor at its center,'' stirring controversy as the comments evoked memories of Japan's imperial wartime past, when the Emperor was officially regarded as a divine entity.

In his 2000 campaign, Mori said voters ''should stay in bed'' when told about media reports that many had yet to decide who to vote for.

Going up against Istanbul and Madrid, Tokyo, which hosted the 1964 Olympics, billed itself as the ''safe pair of hands'' at a time of global political and economic turmoil - a message that clearly resonated with the International Olympic Committee.


Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.