Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, the head of Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic organizing committee, came under fire Friday after he criticized Japanese figure skater Mao Asada’s performance in the women’s short program at the Sochi Olympics.
The two-time world champion finished 16th in Wednesday’s short program after falling on her opening triple axel, but rebounded in impressive fashion in Thursday’s free stake to finish sixth. Asada was a silver medalist at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where she finished second to South Korea’s Yuna Kim.
Mori, who became the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee’s chairman last month, said Thursday night that Asada has a habit of “always falling at the most critical time” of a competition. He blamed Asada’s short program shortcomings on her participation in the earlier team event at Sochi.
While in office, Mori had a reputation for making contentious comments. And his appointment to the Tokyo 2020 committee was criticized by some analysts who believe the 76-year-old former prime minister is too old to hold such a position.
Asada was selected for the inaugural team competition in the hope that Japan would win a medal, but she also fell on the triple axel in that event and Japan placed fifth.
“We shouldn’t have taken part in the team competition,” Mori said. “The psychological damage (Asada) incurred must have remained” for the short program.
His comments about one of Japan’s most-loved sports stars provoked instant derision from as far afield as the U.S., where Major League Baseball export Yu Darvish tweeted: “He doesn’t understand what sport is all about.”
Twitter was flooded with encouragement with the hash tags #GoMao and #MaoFight.
“She went for her goal earnestly. She deserves victory and praise that is worth more than a medal as a result of her efforts, regardless of the competition,” user @charomam tweeted.
On Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Facebook page, which has become a general discussion board for a huge range of issues that grip the Japanese public, there was condemnation.
“Former prime minister Mori threw dirt at Asada’s performance. The man in the position of the Tokyo Games chairman should not criticise the country’s own athletes,” Haruo Kohinata wrote.
The Nikkan Sports daily also questioned whether Mori was suited to the job.
“Are we really OK for the Tokyo Games with this man?” its headline read.
The paper pointed out that Mori had also criticized Japan’s ice dance pairing, Cathy and Chris Reed, saying: “They live in the U.S. We let them be part of the Japanese team because they are not good enough” to represent the U.S.
The siblings were born in the U.S. to a Japanese mother, and surrendered their American citizenship as young adults.
On Friday, sports minister Hakubun Shimomura played down Mori’s remarks, saying he found the comments “sympathetic” toward Japan’s top skater.