Olympics

Tokyo 2020 chief pressed to resign after saying women talked too much at meetings

Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organising committee, has apologised for making sexist remarks about “talkative” women in sports organisations, but said he would not resign.

Mori, a former Japanese prime minister with a history of demeaning remarks, told a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) this week that meetings attended by too many women tended to “drag on” because they talked too much.

Referring to his time as chairman of the Japan Rugby Football Union, Mori said: “Women have a strong sense of rivalry. If one raises her hand to speak, all the others feel the need to speak, too. Everyone ends up saying something.”

He added: “If I say too much, the newspapers are going to write that I said bad things, but I heard somebody say that if we are to increase the number of female board members, we have to regulate speaking time to some extent, or else we’ll never be able to finish. I am not going to say who said that.”

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

At a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday, a “deeply remorseful” Mori acknowledged that his comments had been “inappropriate” and ran counter to the Olympic spirit.

But he added: “I am not thinking of resigning. I have been working hard and devoted myself to helping [the Tokyo Olympics] for seven years. I will not be stepping down.”

Asked why he had claimed that women talked too much at board meetings, he replied: “I don’t talk to women that much these days, so I don’t know.”

Accounts by Japanese media present at the online JOC meeting said several attendees laughed, but his comments were condemned by female politicians and sports administrators.

“His comments run counter to the spirit of Olympics that denounces discrimination and calls for friendship, solidarity and fairness,” Renho, a prominent opposition MP, tweeted.

Kaori Yamaguchi, a JOC director who has campaigned to raise the number of women in Japanese sports administration, accused Mori, 83, of undermining the Tokyo Games’ message.

Gender equality and consideration for people with disabilities were supposed to be a given for the Tokyo Games,” she said, according to the Kyodo news agency. “It is unfortunate to see the president of the organising committee make a remark like that.”

“Mori, please resign,” was trending on Twitter in Japan on Thursday, while Noriko Mizoguchi, a former judo silver medallist, tweeted the International Olympic Committee’s code of ethics and said any form of harassment should be rejected.

Mori had earlier apologised for the “careless” remarks in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, but insisted he had not intended to demean women. He said he had been “scolded” by his wife, daughter and granddaughter.

“My wife was angry with me last night,” he told the newspaper. “She said, ‘You’ve gone and said something stupid again. You make an enemy of women and I’m the one who has to suffer.’”

The JOC is attempting to improve female representation by doubling the proportion of women on its 25-member board of directors to 40%.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Katsunobu Kato, told reporters he was not aware of the details of Mori’s comments but said the government was committed to gender equality and seeing more women in leadership roles in sports.

Japan consistently performs poorly in gender equality comparisons, ranking 121 out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 global gender gap report.

Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, said it “goes without saying” that women should be included in decision-making. Koike, the first female governor of the city, said talking too much was down to personality, not gender.

Mori had already drawn criticism by insisting the Tokyo Olympics, whose future is again in doubt due to the coronavirus, would go ahead “regardless” of how the pandemic looks by the time they are due to open on 23 July.

In response, the comedian Atsushi Tamura, who was due to run in the Olympic torch relay, due to start at the end of March, said he would no longer take part.

It is not the first time Mori, a conservative politician who is close to Shinzo Abe – Japan’s prime minister when Tokyo won the Olympic bid in 2013 – has made controversial remarks about sport.

In 2016, he told Japanese athletes about to compete in the Rio Olympics that unless they sang Kimigayo, Japan’s national anthem, in a loud voice they should consider themselves unfit to represent their country, after they had delivered a lacklustre rendition of the song.

During the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, Mori singled out the popular figure skater Mao Asada for criticism after she failed to execute a triple axel during her short programme. “That girl, she’s always falling at a critical moments,” he said.

He also questioned the ability of Chris and Cathy Reed, who were born in the US but represented Japan in the ice dance competition in Sochi. “They live in America,” he said. “Although they’re not good enough for the US Olympic team, we include these naturalised citizens in our team.”

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