Tokyo Olympics chief says he may need to resign as furore grows over sexist comments

Yoshiro Mori plans to speak to media at 2pm (1pm Singapore time) Thursday to explain his comments and apologise. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - The president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee said he may need to resign over sexist comments that women board members had difficulty speaking concisely, which was annoying, the Mainichi newspaper quoted him as saying on Thursday (Feb 4).

The 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, a former Japanese prime minister and head of the Tokyo committee organising the postponed Summer Games this year, said he may step down if calls for his resignation continue.

Mr Mori plans to speak to the media at 2pm (1pm Singapore time) Thursday to explain his comments and apologise, Nippon TV reported. However, he is not thinking of resigning, the broadcaster said.

"If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying," said Mr Mori at a Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board of trustees meeting, according to a report in the Asahi newspaper.

He made the remarks Wednesday in response to plans to double the proportion of women on the board of the Japanese Olympic Committee to 40 per cent from 20 per cent.

"We have about seven women at the organising committee but everyone understands their place."

The JOC decided in 2019 to aim for more than 40 per cent female members on the board, but there are just five women among the board's 24 members.

On social media, Mr Mori's comments caused immediate furore.

The comments sparked off a firestorm, with hashtags including "Mori's gaffe", "Mori resign" and "women who don't know their place", all trending on Twitter in Japan on Thursday morning.

The controversy is the latest headache for the organisers of the 2020 games, which were delayed to August 2021 amid the pandemic. A survey this month showing only 16 per cent of Japanese think it should be held this summer.

In comments live-streamed to the media, Mr Mori added that he had found that Japan Rugby Football Union board meetings took twice as long after the number of women participants was increased. Women are highly competitive and if one speaks, then others also feel they must do so, he said.

He later apologised to domestic media for what he said were careless remarks. He told the Mainichi newspaper that he had not meant to show disrespect for women, but that simply increasing the number of women was questionable.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato declined to comment directly on Mori's reported comments or whether the growing calls for him to resign would affect the Olympics.

Describing the country's gender-equality initiatives through prepared notes, Mr Kato said only that the government would continue to push sports and other organisations to raise participation of women on their boards.

Japan persistently trails its peers on promoting gender equality, ranking 121 out of 153 nations surveyed in the 2020 global gender gap report of the World Economic Forum.

Mr Mori 'scolded' by wife, daughter

Mr Mori, who is no stranger to controversy and whose tenure as premier was marked by a string of gaffes and blunders, told the Mainichi paper on Thursday he was "scolded" for his remarks by his wife, his daughter and granddaughter.

"Last night, my wife gave me a thorough scolding," he told the Mainichi paper.

"She said: 'You've said something bad again, haven't you? I'm going to have to suffer again because you've antagonised women.' This morning, my daughter and granddaughter scolded me as well," he said.

"I was trying to say that I wonder about the general opinion that we should just increase the number of women," he added. "I wasn't trying to slight women at all."

"I believe I have to fulfil my responsibility, but I may have to resign if voices calling for my resignation get stronger," he told the paper in an interview.

The former prime minister was one of the least popular prime ministers in modern Japanese history, leaving office after a little more than a year in the post, with an approval rating in the single digits.

The Tokyo organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an apparent protest of Mori's comments, Noriko Mizoguchi, a former judo silver medallist, tweeted the International Olympic Committee's code of ethics and said that any type of harassment should be rejected.

Ms Renho, a prominent opposition lawmaker, called Mr Mori's remarks "shameful".

"His comments run counter to the spirit of Olympics that denounces discrimination and calls for friendship, solidarity and fairness," she said in a tweet.

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