Photo/IllutrationYasuhiro Yamashita, left, the new president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, speaks at a news conference in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward on June 27. (Tatsuya Shimada)

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With only a year to go until the 2020 Tokyo Games, the Japanese Olympic Committee is turning to former Olympic judo gold medalist Yasuhiro Yamashita to toss out the organization's scandal-tainted image.

Yamashita, 62, was elected JOC president at the committee’s board of trustees and executive board meeting on June 27.

He is replacing Tsunekazu Takeda, whose 18-year reign came to an end amid a bribery scandal that French investigators suspect helped Tokyo land the 2020 Games.

“It is an emergency situation for the president of the host country’s Olympic committee to be replaced just a year before the Olympics,” Yamashita said at a news conference on June 27. “I have received requests and advice (to assume the top post) from many people since February. I have been thinking about ways to make the Tokyo Olympics a success in my own way and decided I would accept the post if I were nominated.”

Yamashita won the gold medal in the men’s judo open-weight category at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, despite a pulled leg muscle that hobbled him on the mat.

He was presented the People’s Honor Award in October the same year.

Yamashita has served as president of the All Japan Judo Federation since 2017. At the JOC, Yamashita became a board member in 2013 and has been in charge of improving athletes’ performances since 2017.

“It is said that a good showing by athletes from the host nation is vital to a successful Olympics,” said Yamashita. “If we support working athletes and coaches, I think it is possible to achieve our goal of winning 30 gold medals.”

The JOC president is elected to a two-year term. Takeda, who first assumed the post in 2001 and has served 10 terms since then, retired at the end of his 10th term that day.

Takeda, 71, who was expected to be re-elected and remain in office during the Tokyo Games, became the subject of a full-scale investigation in France in January for suspected corruption in connection with Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Games.

He has denied the allegations but announced his retirement at a board meeting in March.

“It is appropriate to hand over the JOC to a younger leader,” Takeda said.

Takeda, who was present at the election of Yamashita, gave a speech at the end of the board of trustees meeting.

“The time that I have spent engaging in activities to explain the importance of the Olympic Movement was an extremely important and valuable part of my life,” he said.

However, Takeda was at a loss for words when asked by reporters about the bribery allegations after the meeting.

“I have nothing in particular to say at the moment,” he said.

“This is a result after much consideration,” Takeda also said in a detached tone about stepping down from the top JOC post a year before the Tokyo Olympics, the fruition of his long-held desire.

Takeda had also been a powerful member of the International Olympic Committee until he resigned his membership in March.

Yamashita was asked about the possibility of Takeda being prosecuted by French authorities at the news conference.

“I know Takeda’s character, and I believe in his innocence,” Yamashita replied.

“I have no plans to conduct a reinvestigation by the JOC at the moment,” he added.

At the same time, Yamashita is aware of the need for reform of the JOC.

“I hope legal experts will join the JOC board to put an emphasis on compliance from now on,” he said.

Yamashita also expressed his vision of sports and politics, saying that Japan's sports world lacked the clout to convince the Japanese government not to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

"We should not let that happen to the next generation," Yamashita said. "The JOC has to grow and become a vital organization in society. I think it is crucial to build a relationship based on trust with politics through sports.”