Japanese minister apologises after suggesting 18-year-old star swimmer’s leukaemia diagnosis would dampen enthusiasm for 2020 Tokyo Olympics
- Swimmer Rikako Ikee – 2020’s poster girl – revealed the shock leukaemia news
- Minister Yoshitaka Sakurada voiced fears that Japan’s medal tally would suffer
- He said he was worried that ‘excitement would wane’ for next year’s Olympics
Japan’s gaffe-prone Olympics Minister has apologised after suggesting that an 18-year-old star swimmer’s leukaemia diagnosis would dampen enthusiasm for the Tokyo Games next year.
Swimmer Rikako Ikee – considered the poster girl of the 2020 Olympics – made the shock medical announcement yesterday, sparking an outpouring of well wishes.
But minister Yoshitaka Sakurada appeared to voice sadness that Japan’s medal tally might be affected as a result.
‘She is a potential gold medallist, an athlete in whom we have great expectations. I’m really disappointed,’ said the 69-year-old, according to local media.
‘When one person leads, she can boost the whole team. I am slightly worried that this type of excitement could wane.’
Poster girl: Swimmer Rikako Ikee, pictured celebrating her 50m freestyle gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta last year, announced yesterday she was suffering from leukaemia
Gaffe: Yoshitaka Sakurada, the minister in charge of the 2020 Olympics, has apologised after suggesting the swimmer’s diagnosis could dampen enthusiasm for the Tokyo Games
Following a backlash from the public and opposition politicians, Sakurada sought to clarify his stance and admitted his comments ‘lacked consideration.’
It is not the first time Sakurada has made unwanted headlines.
He attracted widespread ridicule last year when he admitted that he had never used computers in his professional life.
The comment was all the more bizarre because he doubles as deputy chief of Japan’s cyber security strategy.
Sakurada also sparked anger for ill-advised comments in 2016 when he described the ‘comfort women’ forced to work in military brothels servicing Japanese wartime troops as ‘professional prostitutes.’
In action: Rikako Ikee shot to fame at last year’s Asian Games, pictured, where she won a record six gold medals
Ikee shot to fame at last year’s Asian Games, where she captured a record six gold medals to fire a warning for the 2020 Olympics in her home city.
The teenage superstar, who holds a string of national records, has been tipped to push for gold on several fronts, in particular in the women’s 100 metres butterfly.
Ikee told fans she was determined to beat her illness after being forced to abandon her training camp on Australia’s Gold Coast.
‘If treated properly it’s a disease that can be beaten,’ said Ikee, who confirmed she will withdraw from the Japanese championships in April.
‘I will devote myself to my treatment and strive to be able to show an even stronger Rikako Ikee.’