Japan’s Olympics minister was forced to apologize Wednesday after he appeared to express concern about the Games’ excitement due to the country’s star swimmer being diagnosed with leukemia.
Rikako Ikee, 18, revealed Tuesday she was battling the illness. And though Yoshitaka Sakurada sent his well wishes to the teen swimming sensation, he caused a furor with his comments, the Japan Times reported.
“She is a potential gold medalist, an athlete in whom we have great expectations. I'm really disappointed,” Sakurada was quoted as saying. “When one person leads, she can boost the whole team. I am slightly worried that this type of excitement could wane.”
He then tried to explain himself, according to the Japan Times.
“Her recovery is the most important thing,” he said. “I would like her to focus on her treatment and get better as soon as possible.”
Sakurada apologized for his comments, saying he “lacked consideration” for Ikee. However, he was still chastised by Japanese politicians.
“He cannot empathize with someone suffering from a terrible illness,” Yukio Edano, Japan’s Constitutional Democratic Party leader, said.
Ikee, who won six gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games, told her fans she planned on winning her battle with cancer.