The head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organising committee has resigned, a week after his derogatory comments about women triggered an international backlash.
“My inappropriate remarks have caused chaos, and I would like to apologise to express my deepest apologies to the members of the council and executive board, as well as the entire community,” Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, told a meeting of the Tokyo 2020 executive board on Friday.
“The important thing is that the Olympic Games are held in July. If I am going to be [an obstacle] to their delivery by remaining in my position, then that is something we should avoid.
“The Games should continue under new leadership, so I’m announcing today that I’m stepping down as president of the organising committee.”
His rumoured successor, Saburō Kawabuchi, withdrew his candidacy on Friday amid criticism that he had been approached by Mori with little discussion or transparency.
Mori’s resignation – and failed attempt to install Kawabuchi as his successor – came after the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, had reportedly suggested appointing a woman, or a younger man, only for Mori to approach Kawabuchi, the 84-year-old “mayor” of the Tokyo athletes’ village and a former chairman of the Japan Football Association.
Fuji News Network reported the government had sought to block Kawabuchi’s nomination. “We can’t give the impression that things have changed unless we install a woman or see a generational shift,” the broadcaster cited a government source as saying.
The Mori controversy has done “serious reputation damage” to the Tokyo Olympics, said one source involved in the Games. The source, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said many officials wanted a woman to replace Mori.
Local media said the Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, who has represented Japan at both the summer and winter Olympics as a track cyclist and speed skater, was being considered as a possible candidate.
The organising committee is to set up a panel – comprising an equal number of men and women – to select a successor, media reports said.
Mori came under pressure to resign after he complained during meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee early this month that talkative women tended to make meetings “drag on too long”.
Referring to his time as chairman of the Japan Rugby Football Union, the 83-year-old said: “Women have a strong sense of rivalry. If one raises her hand to speak, all the others feel the need to speak, too. Everyone ends up saying something.”
He later apologised and retracted the remarks – conceding that they had been “inappropriate” – but the fallout only intensified, frustrating attempts by the Tokyo 2020 organisers and the International Olympic Committee to convince the world it would be possible to hold the Games during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mori, who has a history of making insensitive and controversial remarks, defended his treatment of women in the Olympic movement.
“I didn’t mean for [my remarks] to be neglectful of women but I guess it was broadcasted in that way,” he said. “I actually worked a lot to allow women to be able to ‘voice out’, even more than men.
“There were times when the women were not speaking out but I had appointed a couple of women so I could give them an environment and an opportunity to state whatever it was they wanted to say.”