Mori leaves but gender issues persist

TOKYO (AP) – Yoshiro Mori resigned as chairman of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee on Friday after sexist remarks suggesting that women talk too much.

“Starting today I will resign as president,” he said, opening a meeting of the executive board and council. The board was expected to choose his successor later Friday. Mori was appointed in 2014, just months after Tokyo won the bid to host the Olympics.

“My inappropriate comments have caused a lot of chaos,” he said. He repeated several times that he regretted the comments, but also said that he “had no intention of neglecting women.”

Mori’s departure comes after more than a week of continuous criticism over her comments earlier this month. He initially apologized but refused to withdraw, which was followed by relentless pressure from television pundits, sponsors, and an online petition that attracted 150,000 signatures.

But it’s unclear whether his resignation will clear the air and return the focus to how exactly Tokyo can hold the Olympics in just over five months amid a pandemic.

The Olympics will open on July 23, with 11,000 athletes and 4,400 more at the Paralympics a month later. Around 80% in recent polls in Japan say they want the Olympics to be canceled or postponed with clear support of around 15%.

Early reports said Mori, 83, had chosen 84-year-old Saburo Kawabuchi, a former chairman of the Japanese soccer governing body and a former player himself. He played for Japan in the 1964 Olympics.

Kawabuchi is even older than Mori and will raise the question of why a woman was not named. This is the center of all the debate that Mori unleashed about gender inequality in Japan and the absence of women in sports boards, politics and governance. Women are also largely absent in leadership roles on the organizing committee.

Kawabuchi indicated Thursday that Mori had contacted him and that he would take the job if offered. But he said later that it might not be the right option and seemed to be pulling out.

Japanese media immediately pointed out that there were three qualified women, all athletes and former Olympians and at least one generation younger, who could fill the position.

Kaori Yamaguchi won a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics in judo. Mikako Kotani won two bronze medals at the 1988 Olympics in synchronized swimming. And Naoko Takahashi was a marathon gold medalist at the 2000 Olympics.

Seiko Hashimoto, current Olympic minister and former Olympian, has also been mentioned as a candidate.

Mori’s remarks have highlighted how far Japan is relative to other prosperous countries in advancing women in politics or on boards. Japan is ranked 121 out of 153 in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings.

Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo, characterized Japan as a country that is still run “by a club for the elderly.” But he said this could mark a milestone.

“Social norms are changing,” he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “A clear majority of the Japanese found Mori’s comments unacceptable, so the problem has more to do with the lack of representation of women in leadership positions. This unfortunate episode may have the effect of strengthening the call for greater gender equality and diversity in the corridors of power.

Although some on the street asked Mori to resign (several hundred Olympic volunteers say they are retiring) most of the decision-makers, including Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, did not and simply condemned his comments.

A comment a few days ago from Toyota Motor Corp. chairman Akio Toyoda seemed to move the needle.

Toyota is one of 14 TOP Olympics sponsors that pay around $ 1 billion each four-year cycle to the International Olympic Committee. The company rarely speaks out on politics and Toyota did not ask for Mori’s resignation. But just talking about the matter might have been enough.

“(Mori’s) comment is different from our values ​​and we find it regrettable.” Toyoda said.

Toyota and Coca-Cola are also major sponsors of the torch relay.


Associated Press journalist Yuri Kageyama contributed to this report.


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