Furor over Tokyo Olympics chief’s sexism proved too big to defuse


TOKYO — The global uproar over Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori’s remarks accusing women of talking too much proved too big in the end to be defused with an apology.

Mori, 83, tried to draw a line in the sand last week by retracting what he called his “inappropriate remarks,” but critics were not impressed and neither were Olympic sponsors, who expressed growing concern.

His departure, announced Feb. 12, comes less than six months before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, potentially impacting preparations.

The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee did not initially expect the former Japanese prime minister’s comments to create such a reaction at home and abroad and hoped he would continue as president, according to officials. One senior member had initially thought public opinion would “settle down at some stage.”

In order to quickly respond to increasing public anger, Mori held a press conference on Feb. 4 to apologize for the comments he made a day before.

But his remarks to reporters, in which Mori said he had “no intention of stepping down,” were widely censured for being insincere and sparked further debate over whether he was qualified to head the biggest event on the sporting calendar.

The International Olympic Committee at first said the controversy was closed after Mori apologized for the remarks.

It released another statement Feb. 9 calling his comments “absolutely inappropriate,” amid continued criticism by the public and athletes.

Yuji Nakamura, a professor of sports administration at Utsunomiya University, said, “The comments degrading women by President Mori were very problematic, and from the remarks he made at the press conference, it was very clear that he had no remorse.”

Corporate sponsors, which have been coping with the added cost of the one-year postponement of the Olympics and Paralympics, also began to turn their backs on Mori who has headed the organizing committee since its launch in 2014.

During an online session between the organizers and the sponsors on Feb. 8, instead of considering Mori’s apology enough to end discussions about the controversy many companies urged the committee to take further steps to address the issue of gender equality, according to people familiar with the matter.

One manufacturer told the session it had received a message from a customer threatening to boycott its products, while several other companies said they had received complaints from the public about their response to Mori’s remarks.

“We haven’t been able to advertise by making full use of our sponsorship deals because it remains unclear whether the games can be held. So the comments were very unpleasant,” one official of a sponsor said.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., one of the top sponsors of the Olympics, said Feb. 10 it is “truly regrettable that (Mori’s comments) are different from the values Toyota has cherished.”

Mori’s comments were made in reference to the Japanese Olympic Committee’s plan to increase the number of women on its board. He said that women tend to talk too much in meetings and suggested that their speaking time should be limited to prevent sessions from dragging on.

“I assume Mr. Mori decided to resign because he had no other choice due to mounting criticism in Japan and abroad,” said Nakamura of Utsunomiya University.

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