Japan’s gaffe-prone Olympics minister apologized Wednesday for saying that he is «really disappointed» over swimming star Rikako Ikee’s diagnosis of leukemia.
Yoshitaka Sakurada, who is in charge of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics Games to be hosted by Tokyo, retracted his comments from the previous day that swiftly elicited a huge backlash from the public and politicians.
Hours after the teenage swimming sensation revealed her illness on Tuesday, Sakurada told some reporters, «She is a potential gold medalist, an athlete for whom we have great expectations. I’m really disappointed.»
Ikee, an 18-year-old Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medal hopeful, whose sparkling personality and looks have attracted fans at home and abroad, is now hospitalized and receiving treatment.
Sakurada is also quoted as saying, «I hope that she will focus on her treatment and do her best. I want to see her well.»
«When one person leads, she can rouse the whole team. I am slightly worried that this type of excitement can wane,» he added.
The minister tried to defend himself afterward. «Her recovery is the most important thing. I would like her to focus on her treatment and get better as soon as possible,» the 69-year-old told Kyodo News when trying to explain his comments.
Opposition politicians and her fans clamored for Sakurada’s resignation describing his comments as «heartless.»
«This is terrible. Is this the type of comment that Cabinet members should make? It is symbolic of the character of Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe’s administration,» said Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People.
«He cannot empathize with someone suffering from a terrible illness,» said Yukio Edano, who heads the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Fans of Ikee, who holds multiple national records, ripped into the minister on social media, calling for his resignation while expressing their support for the swimmer.
«Isn’t it normal for the minister to apologize and resign?» asked one.
«Most people want (Ikee) to just get better more than (they care about) Olympics or medals. That’s the only thing that matters and we don’t need unnecessary comments,» wrote another fan.
Since the announcement of her diagnosis, messages of support and encouragement have been pouring in for Ikee, who won an unprecedented six gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games and became the first female athlete to be named MVP at the region’s biggest multisport event.
Actor Ken Watanabe, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 1989, said, «Although I know little about the situation surrounding you, I hope you will look forward and take your time getting treatment, believing in today’s medicine and your vital force.»
Sakurada, who doubles as the government’s cybersecurity strategy chief, is no stranger to controversy. He admitted last November that he does not use a computer.
In the past, Sakurada was admonished for saying that women forced into wartime Japanese military brothels were «prostitutes by occupation.»
Star swimmer Rikako Ikee has leukemia, Tokyo Olympic chance gets iffy
Football: Leukemia survivor Hayakawa voices support for swim star Ikee
Japan’s cybersecurity chief says he has ”never used” a computer
All — Kyodo News+