Tokyo Olympics board diverse but not free of criticism

Tokyo Olympics board diverse but not free of criticism

Published Mar. 18, 2014 8:59 a.m. ET

TOKYO -- After appointing women and former Olympians to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics board to counter criticism it was dominated by old men, organizers now face a possible new controversy over the appointment of a music producer.

The 34-member board now includes seven women -- including two Olympians -- as well as Yasushi Akimoto, the man behind AKB48, a singing and dancing "idol" act featuring dozens of young women that some find musically inane and sexist.

The group and its spinoffs are popular not only in Japan, but also other Asian nations, and the Japanese government has often appointed them as ambassadors for what it calls "cool Japan" culture.

Tokyo's Olympic committee, headed by 76-year-old former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, came under scrutiny for the lack of female and younger members on the executive board.


Almost as soon as the new members were announced, a petition began circulating on the Internet protesting Akimoto's appointment. It has collected more than 11,000 signatures and aims to collect 10 times that.

Japan boasts a number of internationally respected artists, including film director Takeshi Kitano and visual artist Takashi Murakami. There has been some speculation Kitano may be chosen to direct the opening ceremony.

Under the Olympic board lineup announced this week, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda was named vice chief. Two-time Olympic judo gold medalist Ayumi Tanimoto, a woman, and Olympic hammer-throw gold medalist Koji Murofushi are among the board members.

The 2020 Olympics are being billed as the hope for revival for a nation that has been stagnant for decades and has been rocked by natural and manmade disasters in recent years.

For Japan, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the games are a nostalgic flashback to the 1964 Tokyo games that were so critical in stimulating new infrastructure and modernization.