Hundreds of people who signed up to volunteer at this summer’s rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games resigned on Tuesday after the head of the organising committee made some derogatory remarks about women.
Yoshiro Mori complained last week that meetings tended to drag on because “competitive” women in attendance “talked too much”. The 83-year-old former prime minister later apologised and retracted his comments while also attempting to justify them, inviting further criticism.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also condemned Mr. Mori’s sexist comments as “absolutely inappropriate”, as it reaffirmed its commitment to gender equality.
The IOC said in a statement that Mr. Mori’s comments were “in contradiction to the IOC’s commitments and the reforms of its Olympic agenda 2020”.
More than 400 of the 80,000 people who signed up to volunteer at the Tokyo Games have resigned, according to local media, while an online petition calling for action to be taken against Mori had attracted more than 140,000 signatures by Monday. Olympic organisers said they had received more than 5,500 complaints.
“We are taking this very seriously,” the Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, said on Tuesday morning when asked about the resignation of the volunteers.
Daichi Oyama, 28, who withdrew as a volunteer over coronavirus concerns, said Mori’s comments were proving “very embarrassing for Japan”. He said: “If every time he says something things get worse, he should quit.”
A poll at the weekend by Kyodo news agency found that almost 60% of people thought Mori was “unfit” to lead the organising committee, with just 6.8% saying he was qualified for the role.
The controversy has added to the myriad problems facing the IOC and Japanese organisers as speculation mounts over the future of this summer’s Games, which have already been delayed by a year because of the pandemic.
In a poll conducted shortly after the controversy erupted, 82% of those polled said the Games should be cancelled or postponed again, with just 14.5% saying they should go ahead as planned on 23 July.
The tennis player Naomi Osaka said Mori’s comments were “ignorant” but did not call on him to step down. “I don’t know in what situation he said those things, but I think it’s really uninformed and a bit ignorant,” she said.
Mori may weather the storm, given the support he has among influential figures in the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP) and the IOC.
Mori’s relationship with the IOC president, Thomas Bach, is said to be one of “equals,” while Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, has stopped short of questioning his suitability for the job.
There are concerns that his resignation could hamper preparations for the Games at a crucial time, with less than six months to go before the opening ceremony on July 23.
Kaori Yamaguchi, a judo champion and member of the JOC board, said many people believed Mori was untouchable.
“I think it’s much easier for the IOC, it’s faster to work with a dictator,” said Yamaguchi, who was present at the JOC meeting where Mori made the remarks. “If Mori says OK, it means OK.” (Source: The Guardian)