The recent sexist remarks by Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, are expected to add fuel to calls for the cancellation of the games amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga failed to demonstrate his determination Thursday to play an active role in resolving the furor caused by Mori.
When asked to comment on the Mori remarks, made at a Japanese Olympic Committee gathering Wednesday, during a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Suga at first said, "I'm unfamiliar with details of the remarks."
Because he was booed by the opposition camp, Suga added to his answer by saying women's social participation is "extremely important, also in the sports field," suggesting that he had little sense of the scale of the backlash.
The prime minister did not mention whether Mori, one of Suga's predecessors, should resign as president of the committee. Meanwhile, the resignation was demanded by Yukio Edano, head of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Suga acknowledged Mori's remarks as ones "that should have never been made" only after Seiko Hashimoto, minister for the Tokyo Games, gave a detailed explanation of what Mori told the JOC meeting at the request of an opposition lawmaker.
During the meeting, Mori said: "Meetings of boards of directors with a lot of women take so much time. Women have a strong sense of rivalry. If one (female) member raises her hand to speak, all the others feel the need to speak, too."
Foreign media took the lead in reacting strongly to the comments, as they took them as sexist.
In addition to Edano, other opposition party leaders urged Mori to resign, with Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii blaming Mori for making "silly derogatory remarks about women."
Meanwhile, members of the government have distanced themselves from the issue.
"The organizing committee is an organization outside the government," a senior official said.
Another government official, based at the Prime Minister's Office, pointed out that it is difficult to say something to the former prime minister, who still holds considerable influence over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's largest intraparty faction, of which he has served as chairman.
Hashimoto said that the government will not seek Mori's resignation.
"I would like him to respond adequately so he does not repeat what he did," Hashimoto said during a news conference Friday, adding that she spoke with International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach over the phone on Thursday night.
Japanese Olympic Committee chief Yasuhiro Yamashita told reporters that Mori's comments "violate the Olympic spirit," but did not call for his resignation.
"He has apologized and retracted (the remarks). I understand there are many opinions, but I would like him to serve in his position until the end," said Yamashita.
Bach asked the Japanese government to continue working toward the success of the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Hashimoto.
Both the IOC and International Paralympic Committee released comments Thursday stating that Mori's apology closed the matter.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said the comments were "impermissible" and told reporters that she was at a loss for words when she learned about the remarks.
"It is the mission of the metropolitan government and the organizing committee to host a safe and secure games, but now we are facing a serious situation," Koike, the first female governor of the capital, said at the metropolitan government office.
"The IOC has said the matter is closed, but I have heard that games volunteers have resigned and people have made phone calls in protest, so we need to look into that," she added.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the top government spokesman, admitted that Mori's remarks have triggered "various criticism."
"Given the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games should be held through the cooperation and understanding of not just Japanese people but the world, we hope each would respond by taking that into account and that the government will also make preparations from that standpoint," Kato said at a news conference.
Koichi Akutsu, 61, who will be an Olympic torch relay runner in Fukushima Prefecture, said Mori's news conference was "embarrassing because he merely tried to justify himself."
Expecting many people to refrain from taking part in the relay, set to start from the prefecture in March, due to the gaffe, Akutsu said, "A young leader is desired (for the committee)."
"Mori does not seem to be seriously reflecting on what he has done," said an official of the Miyagi Prefectural Government in charge of promoting the Tokyo Games, which are in part intended to showcase the recovery of the Tohoku region, including Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
After watching Mori's televised news conference, an organizing committee source said, "It was terrible."
"Public support for the games will go down further."
A senior official at an international sport federation voiced worries that Japan may face increased pressure from abroad to cancel the games.
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