By our Web Desk
LAUSANNE: Yoshiro Mori has resigned as president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organising committee over his sexist remarks about women which sparked a fierce backlash and led to deafening calls for him to quit.
The 83-year-old announced his resignation during a special meeting with Tokyo 2020 Council and Executive Board members on Friday.
“As of today I will resign from the president’s position,” said Mori, who was appointed in 2014, just months after Tokyo won the bid to host the Olympics.
“What is important is to hold the Olympics in July, so I cannot stand in the way of preparations. If I cause trouble by remaining on the job, our efforts will all turn to waste.”
While admitting that his “inappropriate comments have caused a lot of chaos”, the former Japanese Prime Minister insisted that he had “no intention of neglecting women”.
The Tokyo 2020 board now needs to find Mori’s successor with less than six months to the opening ceremony of the rescheduled Olympic Games. A replacement would be chosen “as soon as possible” CEO Toshiro Muto told a press conference, but he did not give a specific time frame.
Muto said a selection panel led by Fujio Mitarai, chairman of Canon Inc., who also serves as honorary president of the organising committee, will oversee the screening process to ensure transparency. The Candidate Review Committee will have equal gender representation.
Saburo Kawabuchi, a former president of the Japan Football Association and a councillor of the committee, had revealed to reporters on Thursday he was asked by Mori to take over as the head of the committee.
But reports on Friday claimed the 84-year-old withdrew his candidacy as it did not go down well with many, with the Japanese media pointing out there were qualified women who could fill the job.
Muto refused to say if Mori’s replacement would be a woman. “For myself in selecting the president, I don’t think we need to discuss or debate gender,” Muto said. “We simply need to choose the right person.”
Reports say 56-year-old Seiko Hashimoto, the current government Olympic minister, who was a bronze medallist in speedskating in the 1992 Albertville Games, is the frontrunner to replace Mori.
Tokyo 2020 has promised to ensure that the appointment of a successor is done in a “swift and transparent manner in order to limit the impact on our preparation for the Games”. Organisers also announced plans to establish a gender equality promotion team and increase the number of female members of the Tokyo 2020 Executive Board.
Mori’s demeaning remarks that women board members talked too much and have a “strong sense of competition” have put the spotlight on Japan’s gender gap, which is “by far the largest among all advanced economies”, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report. Japan is ranked 121 out of 153 countries.
His comments, made in reference to the JOC’s plan to increase the number of women on its board, were reported by Asahi Shimbun newspaper on February 3. In his roughly 40-minute speech Mori also mentioned that the seven women on the 35-member board of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee “understand their place”. He apologised the following day and accepted that his words were against the Olympic spirit, but declined to resign.
His resignation, however, eventually seemed inevitable after more than a week of non-stop pressure from many quarters. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken note of Mori’s decision to step down.
“The IOC fully respects President Mori’s decision to step down and understands his reasons for doing so. At the same time, we would like to thank him for his outstanding contribution to the organisation of the postponed Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 over the course of the past years,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.
“Among his many accomplishments, President Mori helped to make Tokyo the best-ever prepared Olympic city. The IOC will continue working hand-in-hand with his successor to deliver safe and secure Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021.”
The IOC, which had initially said the case was closed after Mori apologised, issued a fresh statement on Tuesday describing his comments as “absolutely inappropriate”.
Olympic sponsors such as Toyota have also publicly criticised Mori for his sexist remarks.
President of the International Paralympic Committee Andrew Parsons is hoping that “the domestic and international reaction over the last seven days can be harnessed so that society places greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion, not just in terms of gender representation, but race, sexuality, and persons with disabilities”.
The Olympic Games are expected to open on July 23, with 11,000 athletes and 4,400 more in the Paralympic a month later. But amid the Covid-19 pandemic, organisers are still having to deal with low public support for the Games, with recent polls showing that more than 80% of the Japanese public want the Olympics postponed or cancelled.