Mori is leaving but gender issues remain

TOKYO (AP) — Yoshiro Mori resigned yesterday as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organising 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. Mori was appointed in 2014, just months after Tokyo won the bid to host the Olympics.

“My inappropriate comments 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 over a week of non-stop criticism about his remarks earlier this month. He initially apologised 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 clear 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.

File photo of Tokyo 2020 Olympics Chief Yoshiro Mori carrying the Olympic flame in Miyagi Prefecture, north of Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

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

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

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 absence in leadership roles at the organising committee.

Kawabuchi indicated on Thursday he had been contacted by Mori and would accept the job if offered. But he said later he might not be the appropriate choice and seemed to be withdrawing.

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 synchronised 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.

Mori’s remarks 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.