Japan’s Olympic organizing chief resigned today, following a groundswell of criticism that his remarks more than a week ago showed disdain for women, and that he tried to maintain the male-dominated status quo by installing his own replacement on the Tokyo Games organizing committee.
At a special meeting of the committee in Tokyo on Friday, Yoshiro Mori, 83, acknowledged that his remarks, to the effect that women’s speaking time at Japanese Olympic Committee meetings should be limited because they talk too much, were inappropriate and had caused much chaos.
But in other comments he appeared utterly unapologetic, insisting that his remarks weren’t meant to demean women and any problems were largely a matter of interpretation. He also accused his critics of being disrespectful toward the elderly and the media for whipping up dissent.
Mori’s resignation came before the committee could discuss his future.
IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement that he respected Mori’s decision to step down, and looked forward to working with his successor.
Just a day ago, Mori appeared to have succeeded in handpicking that successor, 84-year-old Saburo Kawabuchi, former head of Japan’s soccer and basketball leagues. The two reportedly met at Mori’s home Thursday, and Kawabuchi told reporters he accepted Mori’s request to replace him.
But on Friday, the organizing committee vetoed the arrangement, which appeared to some to be a backroom deal to install a new boss, very similar to the old boss.
“There was a real sort of tug of war among the conservatives who wanted to continue with the status quo” and others pushing for change, says Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Nakano says some Japanese thought “Mori would be the only person who can silence the critics…and dismiss them as not knowing their proper place.”
Others argued that only Mori had the clout within both the upper echelons of Japan’s leadership and the Olympic establishment to get things done.
“He made it so that the IOC had to bend to Tokyo’s suggestions,” argues sports journalist Nobuya Kobayashi. “He took the lead in this, and without Mori, I wonder how it can be done from now on.”
He says Mori forged a personal relationship with Bach and managed to sway him and the IOC on simplifying the Tokyo Olympics to reduce the risks of the pandemic. This includes, for example, downgrading arrangements for IOC members and families in terms of hotels and transportation.
But the status quo Mori embodied was no match for the mounting pressure from hundreds of Olympic volunteers quitting in protest, a flood of complaints from the public to Japanese organizers and corporate sponsors jittery about the additional uncertainty Mori’s remarks inflicted on the Games.
With less than six months to go before the Games are scheduled to kick off, more than half of Japan’s population is under a state of emergency, hospitals are flooded with COVID patients and vaccinations have yet to begin, although they are due to start this month.
Late Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga weighed in, calling for transparency in the selection of Mori’s successor, and the organizing committee said it would form a panel, with equal numbers of male and female members, to handle the matter.
*Chie Kobayashi contributed to this report from Tokyo.