Head of Tokyo Olympics resigns over sexist comments


Yoshiro Mori resigned Friday as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee following sexist comments implying women talk too much.

“As of today I will resign from the president’s position,” he said to open an executive board and council meeting. The board was expected to pick his successor later on Friday.

“My inappropriate comments have caused a lot of chaos,” he said. He repeated several times he had regret over the remarks, but also said he had “no intention of neglecting women.”

Mori’s departure comes after more than a week of non-stop criticism about his remarks, which he made earlier this month. He initially apologized but refused to step away, which was followed by relentless pressure from television pundits, sponsors and an online petition that drew 150,000 signatures.

But it’s not a given that his resignation will clear the air and return the focus to exactly how Tokyo can hold the Olympics in just over five months in the midst of a pandemic.

The Olympics are to open on July 23, with 11,000 athletes and 4,400 more in the Paralympics a month later. About 80 per cent of respondents in recent polls in Japan say they want the Olympics cancelled or postponed, with clear support from about 15 per cent.

Early reports said the 83-year-old Mori had picked 84-year-old Saburo Kawabuchi, the former president of the governing body of Japanese soccer and a former player himself, to succeed him. He played for Japan in the 1964 Olympics.

WATCH | Head of Toyko Olympics under fire for sexist comments:

Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori acknowledged that his comments that women board members talked too much were ‘inappropriate’ and against the Olympic spirit. Mori said that he would not resign, however. 2:03

Kawabuchi is even older than Mori and will raise the issue of why a woman was not appointed. This is the centre of the entire debate that Mori triggered over gender inequality in Japan and the absence of women in boardrooms, politics and sports governance. Women are also largely absent in leadership roles at the organizing committee.

Kawabuchi indicated on Thursday he had been contacted by Mori. But he said later he indicated he might not be the appropriate choice.

Japanese media immediately pointed out there were three qualified women — all athletes and former Olympians and at least a generation younger — who could fill the job.

Kaori Yamaguchi won a bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics in judo. Mikako Kotani won two bronze medals in the 1988 Olympics in synchronized swimming. And Naoko Takahashi was a gold medallist in the marathon in the 2000 Olympics.

Seiko Hashimoto, the current Olympic minister and a former Olympian, has also been mentioned as a candidate.

The Olympics are to open on July 23, with 11,000 athletes and 4,400 more in the Paralympics a month later. About 80 per cent of respondents in recent polls in Japan say they want the Olympics cancelled or postponed. (Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images)

Spotlight on gender equality

Mori’s remarks have put the spotlight on how far Japan lags behind other prosperous countries in advancing women in politics or the boardrooms. Japan stands 121st out of 153 in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings.

Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo, characterized Japan as a country still run “by a club of old men.” But he said this could be a watershed.

“Social norms are changing,” he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “A clear majority of the Japanese found Mori’s comments unacceptable, so the problem is more to do with the lack of representation of women in leadership positions. This sorry episode may have the effect of strengthening the call for greater gender equality and diversity in the halls of power.”

A lifebuoy is pictured on a shore near the Olympic Rings in Tokyo. With less than six months to go until the start of the Games, speculation persists about the viability of the Games going ahead as scheduled in July. (Getty Images)

Though some on the street called for Mori to resign — several hundred Olympic volunteers say they are withdrawing — most decision-makers, including Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, stopped short of this and simply condemned his remarks.

A comment a few days ago from Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda seemed to move the needle.

Toyota is one of 14 so-called Olympic TOP sponsors that pay about $1 billion US every four-year cycle to the International Olympic Committee. The company seldom speaks out on politics, and Toyota did not call for Mori’s resignation. But just speaking on the matter might have been enough.

“The [Mori] comment is different from our values, and we find it regrettable,” Toyoda said.

Toyota and Coca-Cola also are major sponsors of the torch relay.

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