TOKYO (REUTERS) - Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori on Thursday (Feb 4) apologised for making sexist remarks about women, saying he retracted the comments and would not resign, despite calls for him to step down on social media.
In a hastily-called press briefing, the 83-year-old tried to explain himself, at first apologising, then later saying that he did not necessarily think that fretting over the number of women in high-ranking position was what was important.
"I don't talk to women that much lately so I don't know," he said, when asked by a reporter whether he had any basis for saying that women board members talked too much during meetings.
The hashtag "Mori, please resign" was trending on Twitter in Japan on Thursday morning and some users on the platform were calling on sponsors to pressure the Tokyo organising committee into dropping him from the top post.
Mori, whose 12-month term as prime minister in 2000-1 was marked by a string of gaffes and blunders, acknowledged that his remarks that women board members talked too much were "inappropriate" and against the Olympic spirit.
He had made the sexist comments at a Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board of trustees meeting this week, according to a report in the Asahi newspaper.
"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 Mori, according to the Asahi report.
"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.
Mori acknowledged that his comments were "inappropriate" and against the Olympic spirit.
"I feel deep remorse and I would like to retract my remarks," he told reporters.
Asked about Mori's remarks in parliament, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the comments should not have been made.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics board would have to decide on any resignation, Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said later on Thursday.
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.
Mori's defiant response is unlikely to tamp down public criticism and anger over his comments is likely to further alienate a Japanese public that has grown wary of Tokyo's attempts to hold the Games during a pandemic.
Nearly 80 per cent of the Japanese public opposes holding the Games as scheduled in July, according to the most recent poll.