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Tokyo Olympics chief resigns over sexist comments

February 12, 2021

Yoshiro Mori drew widespread criticism after saying that women talk too much. The government has now blocked his efforts to tap a successor.

A protest against Yoshiro Mori in Tokyo on February 10, 2021. (Kyodo)
Yoshiro Mori's comments drew widespread criticismImage: Kyodo/picture-alliance

The head of the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Yoshiro Mori, resigned on Friday over sexist comments he made earlier this month, when he said that women talk too much. 

"My inappropriate comments caused a big trouble. I am sorry," Mori said at a meeting of senior officials of the Organising Committee. "If my presence causes trouble, our efforts so far have been brought to nothing," Mori said.

Mori, a former prime minister, had initially apologized but refused to step down. This drew criticism from sponsors, pundits, and led to an online petition that drew more than 150,000 signatures. 

 "The (Mori) comment is different from our values, and we find it regrettable," said Toyota Motor Corp President Akide Toyoda. Toyota, a major sponsor for the International Olympic Committee, seldom speaks out on political issues. 

The Tokyo Olympics were postponed from last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. They are currently scheduled for July, followed by the Paralympics a month later. 

International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons said he hoped the saga would lead to positive change on diversity and inclusion.

"I'm a firm believer that out of all bad situations something good must come out of it," Parsons said in a statement. "I sincerely hope that the domestic and international reaction over the last seven days can be harnessed so that society places greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion, not just in terms of gender representation, but race, sexuality, and persons with disabilities."

A recent poll in Japan said 80% of the people wanted the Olympics canceled or postponed to the next year.

Mori's replacement blocked

AS a replacement, Mori had nominated Saburo Kawabuchi, an 84-year-old former president of the Japanese soccer governing body, and a former player himself. 

However, after reports that the government would block the nomination, Kawabuchi turned down the request to take over as Olympics chief. 

Observers questioned why a woman was not appointed chief. Japanese media pointed out three female candidates — Kaori Yamaguchi, Mikako Kotani, and Naoko Takahashi — who were all former athletes, Olympic medal winners, qualified for the position and a generation younger. 

The issue led to an extensive debate about gender bias in Japanese society. Japan ranks 121st among 153 countries in the World Economic Forum's gender equality rankings. 

"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," said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University told the Associated Press.  

IOC will work with successor to stage games

After the resignation, the International Olympic Committee said it was "as committed as ever" to staging the Games this summer.

"The IOC will continue working hand-in-hand with his successor to deliver safe and secure Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021," IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. 

aw, tg/rs (AFP, AP, Reuters)