TOKYO -- The furor over sexist comments by Tokyo Olympics organizing committee chief Yoshiro Mori was marked by the notable absence of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who had remarkably little to say.
It took eight days for Mori to decide to step down after he said Feb. 3 that board meetings with a lot of women "take so much time" because of their "strong sense of competition," setting off a firestorm of criticism in Japan and abroad.
Suga said the next day that the comments "should not have been made." On Feb. 5, he said in a response to a question in a Diet session that Mori's words were "completely at odds with gender equality, an important principle of the Olympics."
The prime minister's responses gradually took on a more critical tone. Mori's remarks were "not favorable" to the national interest, he said Monday. Yet Suga continued to avoid the question of whether the Olympics chief should stay or go, arguing that it was not for him to decide.
Other senior officials in Suga's ruling Liberal Democratic Party largely favored protecting Mori, contending that he would be "hard to replace." Almost none openly called for him to step down. Seiko Noda, the party's executive acting secretary-general, was about the only one to mention the possibility of Mori voluntarily resigning.
The government's failure to act underscores one of its weak points: the lack of an aide to do the dirty work that Suga himself handled for predecessor Shinzo Abe. As Abe's chief cabinet secretary, Suga pressured cabinet ministers to resign after gaffes, but there is no one playing this role for Suga now.
Mori is a former leader of the LDP's Hosoda faction, the party's largest, and remains a party heavyweight. Suga, who belongs to no faction, won September's LDP leadership race thanks in large part to the backing of the Hosoda faction. The fragility of his support base within the party means that he has little choice but to remain friendly with Mori.
The hope was that the matter would blow over after Mori apologized and retracted his remarks, but the furor only escalated. European embassies in Japan posted photos with critical hashtags on Twitter, and hundreds of Olympics volunteers quit, along with multiple runners in the torch relay.
Sponsors of the games also made their displeasure known. Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda said in a statement that he was "disappointed" with Mori's comments, while East Japan Railway President Yuji Fukasawa called them "highly inappropriate."
After initially saying it considered the matter "closed" with Mori's day-after apology, the International Olympic Committee was forced to change course in response to the fierce global backlash. Earlier this week, the organization in effect tacitly urged Mori to step down, calling his comments "absolutely inappropriate and in contradiction to the IOC's commitments."