The president of the Tokyo Olympics has resigned following a backlash from athletes, sponsors and the Japanese public over sexist remarks he made last week.
The departure of Yoshiro Mori was announced at an emergency meeting by the Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee and followed a steady build-up of pressure on the 83-year-old former prime minister.
His resignation leaves the Tokyo Games — postponed from last year because of Covid-19 — without a leader just 161 days before they are due to start.
“My inappropriate remarks on this occasion have caused chaos,” said Mori during a 15-minute speech in which he cast himself as a champion of women and criticised media reports of his comments.
Mori’s successor remained unclear after the appointment of Saburo Kawabuchi, another octogenarian who previously headed the Japan Football Association, fell through on Friday.
The search for a replacement comes with the games still under threat from the prevalence of the virus around the world. The organising committee will soon have to make a crucial decision about whether to allow spectators.
The departure of Mori, who remains an influential politician, marked a symbolic moment for gender equality in Japan.
It had appeared that the former rugby player would be able to shrug off the criticism after a brief apology. Several older politicians dismissed the remarks as a gaffe.
The comments were made last week during a meeting between sports officials, at which Mori said women do not belong on committees because they talk too much. “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,” he reportedly said.
But public outrage and embarrassment over the remarks mounted as the incident gained international attention. Polls showed that a majority of the Japanese public thought Mori should resign. Former Olympic medallists spoke out and tennis player Naomi Osaka dismissed the comments as “really ignorant”.
The International Olympic Committee denounced Mori’s remarks as “absolutely inappropriate”.
The tide finally turned after Akio Toyoda, chief executive of the world’s largest carmaker and a global Olympics sponsor, issued a rare statement on Wednesday criticising the comments as “contrary to the values that Toyota respects and supports”.
Following initial reluctance, a string of other sponsors including Panasonic, Asics and Japan Airlines released statements expressing their commitment to diversity and gender equality.