TOKYO — The postponed Tokyo Olympics have yet another problem besides the pandemic. This time it’s Yoshiro Mori, the president of the local organizing committee.
Mori made derogatory comments about women almost a week ago in a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee. Basically, he said they talk too much, driven by a “strong sense of rivalry.”
The 83-year-old former prime minister was forced to apologize, but this has not quelled calls for his resignation. They seem to grow daily, cutting into weakening support for the Olympics and raising questions why elderly men dominate politics and boardrooms in Japan.
In a statement on Sunday, the local organizing committee issued a vague statement saying it supports diversity. The committee is also heavily dominated by men with few women in any leadership roles.
Mori has been the continuing topic of talk and news shows, which point out that the World Economic Forum ranks Japan 121st of 153 countries in gender equality. This contrasts with Japan’s image as a sophisticated, developed country and the home of some of the world’s most famous and trusted brands.
Mori’s future could come to a head in a matter of days
Widely circulated reports in Japan say the organizing committee’s executives will meet this week to discuss his fate.
Any disruption at the top could further soil Tokyo’s image as it tries to pull off the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic, saddled with soaring costs that are now officially $15.4 billion but believed to be much higher.
The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee quickly accepted Mori’s apology. He was appointed under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been backed by current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and has built strong ties with IOC President Thomas Bach.
Bach has called Tokyo the “best prepared Olympics in history” and has repeated the compliment even as it tries to hold the most difficult games on record.
The IOC needs the Olympics to take place. Almost 75% of its income is from selling broadcast rights. Unlike other sports businesses, it has only two major events to sell — the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Tokyo and the IOC plan to welcome 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes in just under six months, keep them in a “bubble,” and limit their contact with media, fans, judges and officials.
An on-line petition was reported Monday to have gained 140,000 signatures. It does not ask for Mori’s resignation, but asks officials to address his behaviour.
The Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that its weekend poll showed almost 60% believe Mori is not qualified for the job. He has headed the organizing committee since 2014.
The Olympics are to open on July 23 but polls show about 80% of the Japanese public believe they should be cancelled or postponed again. The IOC has said they will be cancelled if they cannot be held this time.
In a radio interview on Sunday during the Super Bowl, U.S. President Joe Biden said he hoped the Olympics would take place for the good of the athletes.
“I’ve spoken with the prime minister of Japan, he’s working very hard to be in a position to safely open the games, to have the games, and I think that has to be based on science, whether or not it is safe for that to occur,” Biden said.