Tokyo Governor Koike says Tokyo Games chief Mori apologised for sexist remarks as anger mounts

Yuriko Koike (left) said she was left "speechless" by sexist remarks made by Yoshiro Mori at a meeting this week. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) - Mr Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee, apologised for his recent remarks that caused public outrage, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Friday (Feb 5), citing a phone call with Mr Mori.

She also said Japan needed to review women's participation and that Tokyo would do what it could to boost opportunities for women.

Mr Mori made sexist remarks at a meeting earlier this week. He has apologised but said he would not resign, and criticism of his comments has shown no sign of abating.

Ms Koike had earlier said she was left "speechless" by the remarks, and Japan's Olympic Committee chief said they violated the spirit of the Games.

"I was speechless. The remark was something that shouldn't have been said," Kyodo news agency quoted her as saying.

"The mission of the city and the organising committee is to prepare for a safe and secure Games, and we are facing a major issue," added Ms Koike, one of Japan's few prominent female politicians.

The International Olympic Committee said on Thursday that Mori's apology had settled the issue, but criticism of Mr Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, continued on Friday.

JOC chief Yasuhiro Yamashita said the comments were "inappropriate" and "against the spirit of Olympics and Paralympics", but added that he was not calling for Mr Mori's resignation, local media said.

Mr Mori said on Thursday he wanted to retract the comments, but athletes were among those who said his apology fell short.

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"It's meaningless to withdraw words that have already been said," tweeted footballer Shiho Shimoyamada, Japan's first openly gay professional athlete.

"The same thing will happen again unless you admit your prejudice and take measures to do something about it," she wrote.

And swimmer Satomi Suzuki, who won two silver medals and one bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, said the remarks had left her "angry".

International athletes took aim too, including former Canadian ice hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser - a six-time Olympian and a member of the International Olympic Committee Athletes' Commission.

"Definitely going to corner this guy at the breakfast buffet," she tweeted. "See ya in Tokyo!! #oldboysclub."

'Gold medal for sexism'

Local media said Tokyo's city government received a slew of complaints from volunteers hoping to take part in this summer's Games.

The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper quoted one 54-year-old volunteer as saying he was now considering quitting, explaining "it just feels like he's passing the buck and not taking responsibility".

An online petition begun by calling for "Looking into dealing with Mori and preventing recurrences" had gained 12,000 signatures by noon on Friday.

Mr Mori began his press conference on Thursday by apologising and saying he wished to retract his remarks, but then became defensive when questioned, insisting he had heard complaints that women speak at length.

"I hear those things often," he insisted. "I don't speak to women much recently, so I wouldn't know."

Despite the uproar, the IOC said on Thursday that with Mr Mori's apology it "considers the issue closed".

The row is the latest headache for organisers already battling public disquiet about the Games, with polls showing more than 80 percent of Japanese oppose holding the event this summer.

Mr Mori, who has a history of controversial remarks, had already made waves earlier this week by insisting that the Games would go ahead this summer "however the coronavirus (pandemic) evolves".

While ranking high on a range of international indicators, Japan persistently trails behind on promoting gender equality - ranking 121 out of 153 nations surveyed in the World Economic Forum's 2020 global gender gap report.

Human Rights Watch, which has called for Japan to improve attitudes towards women, criticised Mr Mori's remarks in a statement entitled "a gold medal for sexism in Japan".

"Mori's comments show the Japanese government urgently needs to reform its attitudes towards women, and a good place to start would be in sports," the group said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The Nikkei said in a Feb 5 editorial that Mr Mori's withdrawal of the remarks was not enough and more had to be done to regain trust, especially with the Games so close.

"Mori's ill-considered remarks have undermined trust in the head of the organising committee at this critical time," it said. "It could dampen momentum towards holding the Games themselves and hamper international support for this challenging endeavour."

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