Tokyo Olympics Chief Mori Intends to Resign, Reports Say

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori intends to resign as the head of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee on Friday, according to local media reports.

Mori has told executives of the ruling party that he plans to step down, broadcaster TV Asahi reported, without saying where it got the information. The reports come in the face of growing criticism from business leaders, politicians and the International Olympic Committee over Mori’s remarks that demeaned women.

Masa Takaya, a spokesperson for the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, told Bloomberg News that he had nothing to comment on. The committee is set to hold a meeting of its council and executive board Friday to discuss the latest setback for the virus-delayed event.

Meanwhile, TBS News reported Thursday that Saburo Kawabuchi may replace Mori. Kawabuchi, a former Japan Football Association President, was in December 2019 appointed as head of the athletes’ village for the 2020 Tokyo Games. TBS didn’t say where it got the information.

Kawabuchi intends to take over from Mori and the two met this afternoon, public broadcaster NHK reported later, citing people familiar with the information that it didn’t identify.

Sexist Remarks

The gaffe-prone Mori made the comments last week at an Olympics meeting in response to plans to double the proportion of women on the board of the Japanese Olympic Committee to 40% from 20%. “If you increase the number of women, you have to some extent limit the time for their remarks, otherwise you’ll run into trouble because it will never end,” he said.

Pressure on Mori to step down has mounted after the IOC said in a Tuesday statement that his comments “were absolutely inappropriate and in contradiction to the IOC’s commitments.” The leader of Japan’s biggest company Toyota Motor Corp., which is also a global Olympics sponsor, said he was “disappointed” by the comments and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Mori’s remarks were not in Japan’s national interests.

The 83-year-old Mori later apologized and retracted his remarks, but said he wouldn’t resign. The move sparked a firestorm of social media comments calling for him to step down.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, one of the most prominent women in Japanese politics, on Wednesday said she wouldn’t attend a meeting with Mori, Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto and IOC chief Thomas Bach that is being planned for Feb. 17, the Asahi newspaper said.

About 60% of respondents to a survey carried out by the Mainichi newspaper over the weekend said Mori was not an appropriate person to head the organizing committee. The comments touched a nerve domestically, underscoring what many say are patronizing and paternalistic views of some senior political leaders.

Mori Missteps

Mori was one of the least popular prime ministers in modern Japanese history, leaving office after a little more than a year with an approval rating in the single digits. His tenure that ended in 2001 was clouded by scandals and a steady series of missteps.

One of his most serious blunders as premier came in 2001, when he continued a game of golf after being told of an incident in which a U.S. submarine accidentally hit and sank a Japanese fishing boat that carried high-school age trainee fishermen and their teachers off Hawaii. Nine people were killed in the accident.

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The organizers and the Tokyo government are struggling to find a safe way of hosting the events, with Japan’s vaccination program not slated to start until at least mid-February.

Suga has said he was determined to hold the games that can be seen as proof the world has defeated Covid-19. But amid the delays, rising costs and worries the global influx of visitors could spark a fresh virus wave in Japan, public support has plummeted for the Olympics. A survey this month showed only 16% of Japanese think the event should go ahead as planned this summer.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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