Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Friday the Olympic Games were facing a “major issue” after the head of the organising committee made sexist remarks, with criticism of his comments showing no sign of abating.
Yoshiro Mori, 83, set off a firestorm on social media both at home and abroad this week with comments that women talked too much, remarks made in a meeting with the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) that he later retracted and apologised for but refused to resign over.
The row casts an additional shadow over the Tokyo Games, postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, especially with less than half a year left before the opening ceremony.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Thursday Mori’s apology had settled the issue, but criticism of Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, continued on Friday.
“The mission of the metropolis and the organising committee is to prepare for a safe and secure Games, and we are facing a major issue,” Koike said.
She also said she’d heard the Tokyo government was fielding complaint calls from city residents.
“I myself was struck speechless by his comments, which should not have been made.”
Later, she said Mori had called and apologised directly, sidestepping questions about whether she thought he was qualified for the job.
“The IOC is a big organisation that is steeped in history and requires a lot of negotiating, and in that sense, the question of who is qualified for the top job is one that requires a decision by the Tokyo 2020 organising committee,” she said.
Anger over Mori’s comments is likely to further alienate a Japanese public wary of Tokyo’s attempts to hold the Games during a pandemic.
Nearly 80 per cent of the public opposes holding the Games in July, according to the most recent poll.
Yasuhiro Yamashita, head of the JOC, said Mori’s comments went against the Olympic spirit and were inappropriate, a view cabinet ministers echoed.
“I would hope that people grasp the fact that (preparation for) the Games must proceed with the understanding and cooperation of people around the world,” Japan’s top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told a news conference.
Angry and frustrated Japanese athletes, activists and ordinary women see Mori’s remarks as a clear signal that gender equality in Japanese sports, and society as a whole, remains a distant dream.
“This is the reality of what women in Japan are facing every day. Old guys with outdated mindsets continue to hold power and are making decisions,” said a female staffer at the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, who declined to be identified because she was not authorised to speak to the media.
“Unfortunately in this country, social pressure prohibits women from speaking out about inequality – which makes yesterday’s sexism row even more significant for Japan.”
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.
“I felt anger for the first time in a while,” pro soccer player Shiho Shimoyamada said in a tweet.
“It’s absolutely meaningless to retract remarks already out in the open. Unless you actually acknowledge prejudice and take steps against it, the same thing will just happen again.”
An online petition begun by Change.org calling for “Looking into dealing with Mori and preventing recurrences” had more than 56,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
The Asahi Shimbun, in an editorial, called on Mori to quit.
“Mori … has severely damaged the image of the event with an outrageous remark amid growing international skepticism about whether it can be held this summer,” the paper said. “We demand Mori immediately resign.”