President of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee Yoshiro Mori stepped down Friday following a week of backlash over sexist comments he made, throwing more turmoil into an already beleaguered Games, set to begin on July 23. A successor was not immediately named.
“My inappropriate comments have caused a lot of chaos,” Mori said. He repeatedly expressed regret over the remarks, saying he had “no intention of neglecting women.”
In an executive meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee on Feb. 3, Mori said, “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.” The 83-year-old former Prime Minister also said women are driven by a “strong sense of rivalry.”
The International Olympic Committee said this week that Mori’s comments were “absolutely inappropriate,” and on Friday, IOC president released a statement, saying: “The IOC fully respects President Mori’s decision to step down and understands his reasons for doing so.”
Mori’s remarks led to more than 400 Olympics volunteers quitting and caused a rare public debate in Japan over the role of women in politics or business. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told the Kyodo News that Mori’s comments “made everyone feel uncomfortable at a time when we are trying to overcome the pandemic and gear up toward the Games. I am very disappointed as the head of the host city.”
The comments also drew disapproval from sponsors already struggling to find advertising exposure tied to the Games. Public broadcaster NHK said 36 of the 70 sponsors it contacted saw Mori’s comments as “unacceptable,” while nearly two dozen firms had received complaints from clients.
Toyota Motor Corporation, a global Olympic sponsor, has long been tied to the Tokyo Games and plans to use the event to tout its fuel-cell technology. “We are disappointed by the recent comments, which are contrary to the values that Toyota respects and supports,” company president Akio Toyoda said in remarks to reporters on Wednesday.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed after the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. In January, the Times of London reported the Japanese government had privately concluded the Games will likely be canceled, and they’d focus on securing the Olympics in 2032.
Bach told the Kyoto News, “We have, at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.”
Olympic organizers and the IOC have said that if the Games do not occur this summer, there will be no further postponement; they will be canceled. That would make it the first time the Olympics have been scrapped since 1944, during World War ll.