Tokyo Olympics chief Mori apologises, but refuses to resign over sexist comments

President of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, Yoshiro Mori delivers a speech in front of Tokyo Station, Japan, on July 24, 2019.
PHOTO: Reuters

TOKYO - 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.

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.

The 83-year-old Mori, a former Japanese prime minister and head of the Tokyo organising committee, acknowledged that his comments 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.

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.

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In a hastily-called press briefing, Mori 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.

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.