The head of the Tokyo Olympics apologised today for saying that ‘annoying’ women speak too much in meetings – in the latest headache for organisers ahead of the postponed Games.
Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister of Japan, said he felt ‘deep remorse’ for his sexist comments but refused to resign as head of the Tokyo organising committee.
The 83-year-old had sparked outrage by telling a meeting on Wednesday that ‘meetings with many women take a lot of time’, adding that female board members ‘have difficulty finishing, which is annoying’.
And he triggered further criticism at a hastily-organised press conference today in which he admitted that ‘I don’t speak to women much’.
Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori speaks at a press conference today where he apologised for his sexist comments but refused to step down from the organising committee
Asked whether he would quit, Mori said: ‘I have no intention of resigning. I have been working hard, constructively helping, for seven years. If people say I’m in the way… then maybe they can sweep me away.’
He added: ‘My remarks went against the spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics and were inappropriate. For that, I feel deep remorse and I would like to retract my remarks. I also want to apologise to the people I offended.’
But he became defensive when questioned about the remarks, insisting he had heard complaints about women speaking for too long.
‘I hear those things often,’ Mori said. ‘I don’t speak to women much recently, so I wouldn’t know,’ he added.
‘You are asking all these questions because you wanted to write funny stories, aren’t you?’
The gaffe-prone Mori did not dispute the Japanese media reports which said he had complained that ‘board of directors meetings with many women take a lot of time’.
‘When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,’ he was quoted as saying.
He made the remarks to members of the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC), some of whom were reported to have laughed in response.
The JOC decided last year to aim to have 40 percent female board members, but as of November, there are just five women among the board’s 24 members.
‘We have about seven women at the organising committee but everyone understands their place,’ Mori is reported to have told JOC members.
The comments sparked a furious reaction in Japan, with the phrases ‘enough already,’ ‘misogyny’ and ‘we demand Yoshiro Mori resigns’ all trending on Twitter.
The Olympic rings are seen in Tokyo on Tuesday, only weeks before the postponed torch relay is due to begin – with the opening ceremony of the Games scheduled for July 23
Mori told a newspaper earlier Thursday that his wife had given him a ‘thorough scolding’ over his comments.
A government spokesman declined to be drawn on calls for his resignation, but JOC member and former judo competitor Kaori Yamaguchi called Mori’s comments ‘unfortunate’.
‘Gender equality and considerations for people with disabilities were supposed to be prerequisite for holding the Tokyo Games,’ she told Japanese media.
‘Please stop,’ tweeted Renho, a prominent Japanese opposition politician who uses one name.
‘It’s shameful,’ she added, pointing out the Olympic Charter’s commitment to ‘practising sport, without discrimination of any kind’.
While ranking highly on a range of international indicators, Japan persistently trails on promoting gender equality, ranking 121 out of 153 nations surveyed in the 2020 global gender gap report of the World Economic Forum.
Mori has a history of making controversial remarks, and made waves earlier this week by insisting the pandemic-postponed Games would go ahead this summer ‘however the coronavirus evolves’.
The comments came with polls showing around 80 percent of Japanese oppose holding the Games this year, and while several parts of Japan are under a virus state of emergency.
Japan’s government approved a month-long extension of its state of emergency on Tuesday, with measures now running through March 7 in parts of the country.
The nationwide Olympic torch relay is still due to begin on March 25, with the opening ceremony on July 23.
Olympics organisers this week unveiled the first of a series of ‘playbooks’ aimed at holding the Games safely, warning that rule breakers could be kicked out.
Sports officials will be allowed to skip quarantine as long as they monitor their health for 14 days after arriving in Japan, according to the 32-page document.