Mori Yoshiro has resigned as head of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Organizing Committee, after being unable to face down criticism of his sexist remarks. The move still leaves the games in the balance.
A former prime minister of Japan, Mori said Friday: “Just when we were preparing to definitely hold the Games, I, as president, said something I shouldn’t have said.” He was speaking before an executive committee meeting in Tokyo.
The committee meeting failed to announce a replacement for Mori. Kawabuchi Saburo, an 84-year-old former president of Japanese soccer, had been tipped as the favorite. But after the Mori mess, appointing another 80-something man might have impeded the necessary healing process.
In recent weeks the 83-year-old Mori criticized women for talking too much and taking up time in meetings.
Speaking at an online executive meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee at the beginning of the month, Mori answered a question about gender representation in its board. “On boards with a lot of women, the board meetings take so much time. Women have a strong sense of competition. If one person raises their hand, others probably think, I need to say something too. That’s why everyone speaks,” Mori said in a translation reported by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. “You have to regulate speaking time to some extent. Or else we’ll never be able to finish.”
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He apologized on Feb. 3 saying “I recognize the remark was against the spirit of Olympics and Paralympics. I deeply regret what I said.” But he refused to resign and the matter did not die down.
Politicians, sports stars and other commentators had said that he should step down. And current Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is reported this week to have privately assessed that Mori would not be able to withstand the storm.
The future of the summer games is already precarious given the state of the coronavirus pandemic and Japan’s slow coronavirus vaccination program. The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines arrived in Japan Friday morning on a flight from Belgium. Their approval for use is expected to follow as soon as early next week.
Mori’s stance was not helping matters. Some 500 Games volunteers are reported to have resigned over Mori’s comments. Tokyo’s governor – a woman, Koike Yuriko – said on Wednesday, that she would not attend a four-party meeting involving International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach that is planned for this month. She judged that holding discussions at this point “would not deliver anything really positive.”
Mori’s critics included Japan’s most prominent sports star Naomi Osaka. The tennis superstar called Mori’s remarks “really ignorant.”
The Tokyo Olympics were postponed last year because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Still branded as Tokyo 2020, they are now scheduled to be held July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.