TOKYO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori resigned on Friday (Feb 12) after making sexist comments that caused an international outcry with less than six months until the virus-postponed Games.
“My inappropriate statement has caused a lot of chaos … I wish to resign as president as of today,” he told a meeting of Tokyo 2020’s council and executive board called to discuss his remarks.
Mori is a former prime minister known for embarrassing gaffes who led one of Japan’s least popular governments ever.
The 83-year-old drew a storm of criticism from sports stars and politicians last week after he said that women “have difficulty” speaking concisely, “which is annoying”.
It was the latest in a long series of public missteps that have peppered his career – from continuing to play golf after a deadly marine accident to publicly sneering at a popular figure skater’s performance.
Mori served as prime minister for just one year between April 2000 and 2001, a short term marked by controversy.
Soon after taking office, he declared Japan “a country of gods centred around the emperor” – a highly controversial statement that potentially violated the constitution, which separates religion and politics.
As prime minister, Mori started with an approval rating of around 30 per cent that slid downwards during his term, partly due to his repeated gaffes.
During an election campaign, he said he hoped swing voters who might not support his ruling Liberal Democratic Party would “sleep in on polling day”.
His comments backfired and were seen as contributing to a decline in the number of seats won by the party in the lower house.
And towards the end of his term, he was widely criticised for continuing a golf game after being informed of the accidental sinking of a Japanese ship by a US submarine.
In 2003, he made headlines again for declaring it “strange” that women who don’t have children say “please take care of us with taxes”.
After retiring from politics in 2012, Mori was heavily involved in promoting sports in Japan and played a key role in bringing Asia’s first Rugby World Cup to the country in 2019.
An avid rugby fan and amateur player himself, he served as chairman of the sport’s governing body in the country, the Japan Rugby Football Union, for a decade until his term expired in 2015.
He subsequently served as honorary chairman of the organisation but quit just months before the Rugby World Cup, citing health problems.
Mori has spoken publicly about his battle with cancer, even citing his health struggles as reason to be hopeful about the Tokyo Games going ahead following their postponement in 2020.
“We have no choice but to have hope. I myself suffered cancer… But I was saved by a new drug,” he said then.
“I am here, allowed to live … Let us hope for these things.”
His remarks have not always been so tactful, and he drew fire during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics for pouring scorn on Japanese figure-skating heroine Mao Asada following a disastrous routine in Russia.
“That girl, she always falls over whenever it’s important,” Mori sniped amid widespread disappointment after Asada slipped on her trademark jump to end in lowly 16th position.
Media, fans and fellow athletes hit out at Mori after he said the out-of-form skater should have withdrawn from the team competition.
READ: Commentary: Japanese official’s sexist comments may be last straw for unpopular Tokyo Olympics
More recently, he raised eyebrows last year when insisting he would work to stay free of coronavirus – but without wearing a mask.
The comments were slammed as out-of-touch, and Mori subsequently began wearing one.
He also caused an upset by declaring the delayed Games would go ahead in 2021 “however the coronavirus (pandemic) evolves”.
His remarks came with 80 per cent of Japanese people opposed to holding the Games this year and parts of the country under a virus emergency.
The sexism row that led to his resignation as Tokyo 2020 chief on Friday began when he told members of the Japan Olympic Committee that women have trouble speaking concisely.
“When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” he said.
Mori apologised for the remarks, but his apology backfired after he appeared to defend his remarks and told reporters: “I don’t speak to women much.”