The 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, a former Japanese prime minister and head of the Tokyo committee organising the postponed Summer Games this year, said he may step down if calls for his resignation continue.
“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,” said Mori at a Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board of trustees meeting, according to a report in the Asahi newspaper.
“We have about seven women at the organising committee but everyone understands their place.”
The JOC decided in 2019 to aim for more than 40 percent female members on the board, but there are just five women among the board’s 24 members.
On social media, Mori’s comments caused immediate furore.
The hashtag “Mori, please resign” was trending on Twitter in Japan on Thursday morning and some users on the platform were already calling on sponsors to pressure the Tokyo organising committee into dropping him from the top post.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato declined to comment directly on Mori’s reported comments or whether the growing calls for him to resign would affect the Olympics.
Describing the country’s gender-equality initiatives through prepared notes, Kato said only that the government would continue to push sports and other organisations to raise participation of women on their boards.
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.
Mori plans to speak to media at 2 p.m. to explain his comments and apologise, Nippon TV reported. However, he is not thinking of resigning, the broadcaster said.
MORI ‘SCOLDED’ BY WIFE, DAUGHTER
Anger over Mori’s comments is likely to further alienate a Japanese public that has grown wary of Tokyo’s attempts to hold the Games during a pandemic.
Nearly 80 percent of the Japanese public opposes holding the Games as scheduled in July, according to the most recent poll.
Mori, who is no stranger to controversy and whose tenure as premier was marked by a string of gaffes and blunders, told the Mainichi paper on Thursday he was “scolded” for his remarks by his wife, his daughter and granddaughter.
“I believe I have to fulfill my responsibility, but I may have to resign if voices calling for my resignation get stronger,” Mori told the paper in an interview.
The Tokyo organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an apparent protest of Mori’s comments, Noriko Mizoguchi, a former judo silver medallist, tweeted the International Olympic Committee’s code of ethics and said that any type of harassment should be rejected.
Renho, a prominent opposition lawmaker, called Mori’s remarks “shameful”.
“His comments run counter to the spirit of Olympics that denounces discrimination and calls for friendship, solidarity and fairness,” she said in a tweet. Additional reporting by Sakura Murakami, Mari Saito, Chang-Ran Kim, Chris Gallagher; Editing by Tom Hogue, Gerry Doyle and Michael Perry