The No. 2 figure in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has backed Yoshiro Mori to stay on as the head of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee despite Mori’s sexist remarks last week that have drawn criticism at home and abroad.
“I would like him to work hard to meet the expectations of the people around him,” Toshihiro Nikai, who has served as LDP secretary-general since 2016, said during a news conference Monday.
Nikai, an influential figure in the party headed by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, said it would “not be a problem” for Mori to remain as the president of the committee since he has already retracted his remarks about women talking too much during meetings.
The comments have sparked anger in Japan with many calling for Mori, a former prime minister, to step down.
The organizing committee said Monday that about 390 Olympic and Paralympic volunteers have so far withdrawn their registrations in the wake of the remarks.
Two people have also pulled out of the torch relay, while the organizing committee’s call center received around 350 phone calls and 4,200 emails in a five-day span following the comments.
Remarking on the increasing number of volunteers deciding to turn down their roles, Nikai called the phenomenon “momentary” and said he believes “their thoughts will change once the situation settles down.”
“If they really want to quit, we’ll call for new volunteers,” Nikai said, while adding that he hopes they would “change their minds and cooperate to make the games a success.”
Suga and other LDP lawmakers, including Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, a former Olympian herself, have also backed the 83-year-old Mori.
On Tuesday, however, Hashimoto told a Diet committee meeting that she takes the withdrawal of volunteers “very seriously” and that Nikai’s comments on volunteers were “inappropriate.”
Nikai reiterated his position Tuesday, telling reporters that his remarks on volunteers “did not have much meaning.”
“It just meant that (volunteers who quit) will have a settled idea if they calm down,” Nikai said.
He also brushed aside Hashimoto’s reactions in the Diet. “There is no need to comment on each remark,” he said.
Last Wednesday, Mori told an online session of the Japanese Olympic Committee that meetings with women tend to “drag on” because they often talk too much. He took back the comments and apologized the following day, but refused to step down from his post.
Both the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee released comments stating that Mori’s apology had effectively ended the matter.
But the Tokyo organizing committee is planning to arrange an extraordinary meeting of executives, possibly on Friday, to discuss its response to Mori’s remarks.
The organizing committee has found it necessary to quickly deal with the public’s anger toward Mori, sources close to the matter said.
A Kyodo News survey conducted over the weekend found nearly 60% of respondents believe Mori is not qualified for his role.
On Sunday, the organizers released a statement on gender equality, saying it continues to prepare for the games by emphasizing the importance of diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
On social media, the hashtag “Please retire, Yoshiro Mori” trended after the comments were made.
An online petition calling for the central and Tokyo metropolitan governments, as well as the organizing committee and the JOC, to “properly address” Mori’s behavior has so far collected nearly 140,000 signatures.
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