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Facing Backlash For Sexist Remarks, Tokyo Olympics Chief Apologizes But Won't Resign

Tokyo Olympics organizing chief Yoshiro Mori apologized at a news conference on Thursday, one day after making sexist comments that prompted a swift backlash in and beyond Japan.
Kim Kyung-Hoon
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Tokyo Olympics organizing chief Yoshiro Mori apologized at a news conference on Thursday, one day after making sexist comments that prompted a swift backlash in and beyond Japan.

The chief of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee has apologized but refused to resign after coming under fire for saying women talk too much in meetings.

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori made the comments at a Japan Olympic Committee Council meeting on Wednesday, according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. The group had been discussing its goal of doubling the number of female members of sports organizations' executive boards to at least 40% when Mori weighed in, saying their meetings would run too long because women have trouble speaking concisely.

"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, according to Reuters. "We have about seven women at the organizing committee but everyone understands their place."

Describing women as "competitive," Mori added that "when someone raises his or her hand and speaks, they probably think they should speak, too."

As psychologist Adam Grant noted on Twitter, studies show that men tend to talk more in meetings, even if there are more women present.

While some of Mori's remarks were reportedly met with laughter by council members, they struck a chord in Japan. The country has long grappled with gender inequality especially in the workforce, ranking 110 out of 149 countries in the 2018 World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index.

The backlash was swift: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and other lawmakers expressed their criticism, while the hashtag "Mori, Please Resign" trended on Twitter in Japan, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

Mori apologized in a press conference on Thursday, saying his comments "went against the spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics and were inappropriate," and that he wished to retract them. He also said he had "no intention" of resigning.

"I have been working hard, constructively helping, for seven years," he said. "If people say I'm in the way... then maybe they can sweep me away."

Asahi Shimbun reports that Mori grew "increasingly irritated" as reporters asked him questions about what he meant and whether he was fit to remain in leadership. At one point, according to Kuhn, Mori was asked whether he really believed women talk too much.

"I don't listen to women that much lately, so I don't know," he replied.

Mori told local media he had been "thoroughly scolded" for his remarks by his wife, daughter and granddaughter, Kuhn said on NPR's Morning Edition.

The 83-year-old, who had notoriously low approval ratings during his tenure as Japan's prime minister from 2000 to 2001, has drawn scrutiny for a number of insensitive remarks over the years, including about AIDS.

Describing Mori as "gaffe-prone," Agence France-Presse detailed several other high-profile incidents that it said had provoked controversy, "from continuing a game of golf after a deadly marine accident off Japan's coast to publicly sneering at the performance of a popular Japanese figure skater."

Mori also made headlines on Tuesday, when he assured lawmakers that the Tokyo Olympicswill take place "regardless of how the COVID situation looks" despite growing public skepticism about the event. Recent polls indicate that 80% of respondents think the games should be canceled or rescheduled.

Organizers have repeatedly insisted that the Tokyo Olympics will take place this summer after being postponed from last year, despite growing public disapproval as the coronavirus pandemic remains relatively unchecked.

A third wave of infections prompted Japan to implement a state of emergency in January. With hospitals still overwhelmed, and vaccinations still not available, the country has since extended the state of emergency until March 7 — just 18 days before the Olympic Torch Relay is scheduled to begin.

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement on Thursday that it "considers the issue closed" following Mori's apology.

But the fallout may continue: A prospective Olympic torch relay runner withdrew from the event citing this week's remarks, and journalists at Thursday's press conference noted that some people are saying they don't want to watch "Mori's Olympics."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.