The president of the Tokyo Olympics has refused to resign after igniting a storm of criticism by saying that women do not belong on committees because they talk too much.
Yoshiro Mori, the 83-year-old former prime minister and president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, made the remarks at a meeting of the Japan Olympic Committee on Wednesday.
The sexism scandal marks another setback for Tokyo 2020, which was postponed by a year because of Covid-19 and is still under threat from the prevalence of the virus around the world.
Speaking at an online JOC meeting about proposals to increase the number of female directors, Mr Mori said that in his experience at the Japan Rugby Football Union, women made meetings last too long.
“It takes twice as long. Women have a strong sense of rivalry. If one raises her hand to speak then all the others feel they have to do the same. So it ends up with everybody talking,” Mr Mori said in comments first reported by the Asahi newspaper.
The remarks prompted a popular comedian to withdraw from the Olympic torch relay and furious demands on social media for Mr Mori to quit. At a querulous press conference, he apologised and sought to retract the comments, but said he had no intention of stepping down.
“My comments yesterday were inappropriate and against the Olympic spirit,” said Mr Mori. But pushed about whether he would resign to take responsibility, he said: “I’ve dedicated myself to this for seven years. I have no doubts about what I should do.”
Mr Mori, who was prime minister for a year from 2000-01, has a long history of committing gaffes and making chauvinist remarks, including attacks on women who did not have children and athletes who failed to sing the national anthem loudly enough.
Renho Murata, a member of parliament and former leader of the opposition Democratic party, said Mr Mori’s remarks were “shameful”. Noriko Mizoguchi, a silver medallist in judo at the 1992 Olympics, posted the International Olympic Committee’s code of ethics on Twitter.
JOC member Kaori Yamaguchi, a bronze medallist in judo at the 1988 Olympics, told national broadcaster NHK that the comments were particularly unfortunate because the Tokyo Olympics were themed around the importance of diversity.
On behalf of the government, chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato declined to comment. He said Mr Mori’s comments were a matter for the organising committee.
Even before the Covid delay, Tokyo 2020 was plagued with controversy about its cost and allegations of corruption in the bidding process. Opinion polls show that about 80 per cent of the Japanese public want the Olympics cancelled or postponed again.