TOKYO: Key facts about Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, who, according to sources familiar with the situation, is poised to replace Yoshiro Mori as the head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organising committee after Mori decided to step down over sexist comments.
* The Osaka native is a former Japan Football Association president, who played soccer for Japan at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and was tasked with overseeing the Olympic village for the 2020 Games.
* At the 1964 Games, Kawabuchi scored one goal and assisted with another, as Japan came from behind to beat Argentina and qualify for the quarter-finals. He played in 26 matches for the national team scoring eight goals.
* As the head of J-League soccer he oversaw the rapid growth in popularity of the sport in Japan. Under his leadership, the league, which was launched in 1993, expanded and set up soccer academies nationwide to promote and build the sport.
* Kawabuchi is known to have a good relationship with former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, helping Japan win hosting rights to the Club World Cup from 2005-08 and 2011-2012. He also helped Japan bid and co-host the 2002 FIFA World Cup with South Korea.
* Kawabuchi has made blunt assessments of Japanese soccer. In 2003 he called the under-22 side “clueless” following a 1-1 home draw with South Korea. “It was like men against the boys in the first half,” he said. “Watching it made my stomach feel bad.”
* As the mayor of the Olympic village, Kawabuchi in November hosted International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach at the venue, which will host some 18,000 athletes. He later likened the responsibility of leading the village in the city where he had competed as an athlete to a “miracle” and said it was the “last major role in my life”.
* In his position, Kawabuchi has focused on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, stressing the importance for the athletes to avoid the “three Cs” — confined spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.
* He has spoken strongly in favour of the Games being held despite the pandemic and, as much as possible, with spectators. “Having the best athletes in the world competing without an audience would be like cooking a meal with no seasoning,” he told the Kyodo news agency in December, before a recent sharp increase in infections in Japan.