Tokyo Olympics chief Mori staying amid anger over sexist remark

Japanese ex-prime minister apologises for remarks on women as calls for resignation cast further shadow over delayed sporting event.

Mori is no stranger to controversy and his tenure as premier was marked by a string of gaffes and blunders [File: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP]

The president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee has apologised for his “inappropriate” sexist remarks about Japanese female officials for the Olympics, stirring controversy and casting further shadow over a sporting event already delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite growing calls for his resignation, the 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, who is also a former Japanese prime minister, told reporters on Thursday that he was not thinking of quitting his post.

Mori made the sexist comments at a Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board of trustees meeting earlier this week, according to a report in the Asahi newspaper.

“If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” said Mori, according to the Asahi report.

“We have about seven women at the organising committee but everyone understands their place.”

On Thursday, Mori offered his apology adding that his remark “was thoughtless”.

“If calls for my resignation grow louder, I might be compelled to resign,” he was also quoted as saying.

The hashtag “Mori, please resign” was trending on Twitter in Japan on Thursday morning and some users on the platform were calling on sponsors to pressure the Tokyo organising committee into sacking Mori.

More equity for women

There are only five women on the 24-member Japanese Olympics Committee (JOC).

In 2019, the committee decided that it would aim to increase female representation to more than 40 percent but it remains unclear when the policy will be implemented.

Former judo champion Kaori Yamaguchi, who was on the same JOC call with Mori, said she was initially perplexed by his comments because they had just discussed women board members and governance issues on the call.

“Given his position, it was quite unfortunate – and the fact that it was sent out to the world, it wasn’t just an individual point of view but suggested to the world that Japanese may still think this way,” she said on Thursday.

Japan Olympics
There are only five female members of the 24-seat Japanese Olympics Committee, although there are efforts to increase female membership to 40 percent [FileL Kimimasa Mayama/EPA]

Yamaguchi did not call for Mori’s resignation, but noted his comments could further erode trust in the Tokyo Games.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato declined to comment directly on Mori’s reported comments or whether the growing calls for him to resign would affect the Olympics.

Describing the country’s gender-equality initiatives through prepared notes, Kato said only that the government would continue to push sports and other organisations to increase the participation of women on their boards.

Japan persistently trails its peers on promoting gender equality, ranking 121 out of 153 nations surveyed in the 2020 global gender gap report of the World Economic Forum.

Wary public

Anger over Mori’s comments is likely to further alienate a Japanese public that has grown wary of Tokyo’s attempts to hold the Games during a pandemic.

Nearly 80 percent of the Japanese public opposes holding the Olympics as scheduled in July, according to the most recent poll.

Mori, who is no stranger to controversy and whose tenure as prime minister was marked by a string of gaffes and blunders, had just come under fire earlier in the week for saying that Japan would hold the Games regardless of how the pandemic progresses.

Mori will probably continue to make inappropriate comments, said Keiko Ishikawa, a PR consultant.

“It’s a very difficult time (for the Olympics), and considering that his thoughtless comments lower the morale of everyone involved, it’s better that he quit,” she said.

In an apparent protest against Mori’s comments about women, Noriko Mizoguchi, a former judo silver medallist, tweeted the International Olympic Committee’s code of ethics and said that any type of harassment should be rejected.

Renho Saito, a prominent opposition legislator who’s usually known as Renho, called Mori’s remarks “shameful”.

“His comments run counter to the spirit of Olympics that denounces discrimination and calls for friendship, solidarity and fairness,” she said in a tweet.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies