A piece in today’s Times:
The head of the Tokyo Olympics is to resign over sexist remarks made last week, the Japanese media reported, in a grave blow to an organisation struggling against public opposition to holding a massive sporting event during the coronavirus pandemic
Yoshiro Mori, 83, is expected to formally resign tomorrow. His departure follows international indignation that forced both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and commercial sponsors to distance themselves from him.
His departure will go some way to soothing those who regarded him as the symbol of an entrenched sexism that prevails, if not among the Japanese public, then at least among the elderly men who dominate the Japanese establishment.
Many, however, will not be impressed by the man being spoken of as his successor – Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, a former footballer and head of the Japan Football Association.
The latest opinion polls on the subject reported that only 15 per cent of respondents believe that the postponed games should go ahead as scheduled in July, with 82 per cent against.
Mainstream newspapers and television channels reported that Mori has told close associates of his intention to resign, probably at a meeting of the Olympics and Paralympics organising committee tomorrow.
He has not confirmed this himself, but he told Nippon Television that he would “explain his thoughts” at the meeting, and added, “I cannot let this problem go on any longer.”
Mori’s position became critical after those central to the Olympics began to distance themselves from him. The female governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, said yesterday that she would boycott a conference to be held next week with Mori and Thomas Bach, the IOS president. Koike, who described herself as “speechless” at his remarks, said: “I don’t think a … meeting would deliver anything positive so I won’t be attending.”
In a meeting of the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) Council last week, Mori, a former prime minister, questioned proposals to increase female representation on sports governing bodies on the grounds that “a board meeting with plenty of women will drag on”.
“Women are competitive,” he said. “When one raises her hand and speaks, all the others think they should speak, too. Everyone ends up saying something.” To laughter from some participants in the meeting, he suggested that if more women are admitted to sports’ inner sanctums, their speaking time should be rationed “otherwise they’ll never stop”.
Mori’s expressions of “profound remorse” the next day were undermined by his bad temper, when questioned on the matter by journalists, and by a subsequent television interview in which he said that withdrawing his words was “the fastest way” to overcome the problem.
Both the Japanese government and the IOC displayed a lack of concern about the remarks, which gave way to a more anxious tone as it became clear how much offence they had caused.
Opinion polls revealed that 60 per cent of people thought that Mori was not fit to carry on in his job, and only 6 per cent thought he should stay in his post.
Four hundred Olympic volunteers resigned in protest. The Tokyo city government and Olympic committee received thousands of emails and telephone calls deploring the remarks.
Opposition MPs in Japan’s Diet wore white clothes and flowers in their lapels as a symbol of protest. An online petition attracted more than 140,000 names. But some of those in positions of greatest influence gave the appearance of not taking the controversy seriously.
The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, said that it was not his business. The secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Toshihiro Nikai, said of volunteers who had quit that they would eventually change their minds.
Asked what he thought of Mori’s views, the head of the Japan Business Federation, Hiroaki Nakanishi, said: “I feel that that’s what some people are really thinking in Japan.”
In recent days, however, the heat generated by the remarks was felt by those with much influence over the games – their sponsors. Eneos, a Japanese energy company, said it “deplored” the comments. Akio Toyoda, the head of Toyota, said he was disappointed by them and that they are “different from our values”.
Nippon Life Insurance, nine out of ten of whose employees are women, said Mori’s opinion was “very regrettable as it can be taken as contempt for women and violates the principle of gender equality.”
The IOC initially said that, with the apology, it “considers the issue closed”. On Tuesday, however, it issued a much longer statement, setting out in detail its commitment to gender equality and its successes in achieving it.
“The recent comments of Tokyo 2020 President Mori were absolutely inappropriate and in contradiction to the IOC’s commitments and the reforms of its Olympic Agenda,” it said.
“The IOC has played an important role in promoting women in and through sport … now more than ever, diversity is a fundamental value that we need to respect and draw strength from.”
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