Mori heads Tokyo 2020 committee

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

Mori, 76, 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.

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

Mori is president of the Japan Rugby Football Union and helped Tokyo 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.

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's age and history have led to scrutiny in Japan about his ability to fill a very demanding role.

At the most recent Olympics in London, the head of the organizing committee was 57-year-old former two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion Sebastian Coe, who drew praise for his intense workload, crisscrossing the globe to promote the event.

Far from downplaying that concern, 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 to say by Kyodo news agency after agreeing to accept the post.

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.