UPDATE 1-Olympics-Japan selects basketball player Hachimura, wrestler Susaki as flagbearers

(Adds details of Hachimura’s comments, ticket sales, virus infections)

TOKYO, July 5 (Reuters) - Japan has selected basketball player Rui Hachimura and wrestler Yui Susaki as joint flagbearers for the Tokyo Olympics, organisers said on Monday, placing representatives of a younger, more diverse generation of Japanese at the head of its national team.

Hachimura, 23, was raised in Japan as the child of a Japanese mother and Beninese father and plays for the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

He joins female wrestling medal hope Susaki, 22, as flagbearers leading the host nation’s team at the opening ceremony on July 23, the Japanese Olympic Committee announced.

The joint flagbearer role for Japan and other teams is a break with tradition after the International Olympic Committee changed the rules to send a message of gender parity.

Hachimura, one of a growing number of mixed race Japanese as international marriages increase, has commented publicly about his experience of racist abuse.

In May his younger brother Allen, who plays basketball at university, posted a screenshot of a racist message he had received.

“People say Japan is not a racist country,” Allen said in the Twitter post. “I want everyone to care about the problem of racism,” he added.

“I get messages like this almost every day,” Rui Hachimura wrote in a reply to his brother’s post.

Tokyo 2020’s efforts to showcase Japan as a modern and open nation -- the Games uses the slogan “unity in diversity” in its messaging -- have been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic with organisers scrambling to hold the event without increasing cases.

Already delayed by a year because of the pandemic, the Games are proceeding amid concern that the influx of thousands of people from around the world could unleash another wave of infections in the country.

A member of Serbia’s Olympic rowing team tested positive for the novel coronavirus on arrival in Japan, an official said on Sunday, the third COVID-19 infection confirmed among Olympic team members.

Infection rates are trending higher in the capital, with 716 cases reported on Saturday - the most since late May.

Japan is yet to set the level of virus countermeasures to be in place during the Games and holding the event without any domestic spectators remains a possibility.

Amid this uncertainty the result of a ticket lottery has been pushed back to Saturday from Tuesday, organisers announced on Monday.

Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Michael Perry