TOKYO (AP) — The club that will host the 2020 Olympic golf tournament would be open to changing its policy to include women as full members, if asked.
The Kasumigaseki Country Club came under scrutiny recently when the International Olympic Committee inquired about the club's membership practice. The issue surfaced in mid-January when Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged Kasumigaseki to admit women as full members.
Tokyo Olympic organizers also said they would review the practice.
Kasumigaseki general manager Hiroshi Imaizumi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the club is currently preparing to provide an explanation to the IOC and International Golf Federation that its membership policy excludes women from fully-fledged membership but not from playing or other types of membership. He said the club has no immediate plan to make changes to the practice because the IOC has not asked it to do so.
If requested, the club said it is open to reviewing its policy for a change and would seek consensus from its more than 1,000 full members, though it may take some time, Imaizumi said.
Founded in 1929 as a private club funded by about 300 wealthy men, Kasumigaseki is one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in the country and has hosted more top level tournaments than any other Japanese course.
Within few years of the opening, the club started accepting female players and has since also added junior members, a move seen as female friendly in the relatively conservative sport of golf.
The Japan Golf Association said there are a number of Japanese clubs that still bar women from playing.
The club has not received any complaints from its members about the policy, but if the membership practice is seen as problematic, changing the rule is a possibility in the future, Imaizumi said.
"We have always believed our policy has been very open, so we were caught by surprise," Imaizumi said, referring to the recent media attention over the club's membership policy. "We welcome all female players and we have no intention of creating a gender barrier."
To join Kasumigaseki, an applicant needs to obtain a reference from a current member and pay 8 million yen ($70,800) to become a regular member first, then pay additional 4 million yen ($35,400) to be a full member.
Only full members can play any day of the week.
"Kasumi is an exclusive club that no ordinary people can join and play. It's a club where women are deprived of full membership, which means they cannot join any decision-making process at the club or even cannot play golf on Sunday," said Eiko Oya, a journalist and critic who heads the Japan Golf Council, a non-profit citizens group pushing for a change of venue to Tokyo's public golf course.
The group said it sent a statement to IOC President Thomas Bach in December to call his attention on the issue, saying the club's membership policy is "contrary to the spirit of the Olympic Games."
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