TOKYO -- Sexist remarks made by Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori have drawn fire at home and abroad, in a further blow to organizers who face criticism for insisting the event will be held this summer despite rising COVID-19 infections and costs.
"I apologize and am remorseful for the remarks," Mori told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday. He said he "withdraws" his comments as they were inappropriate and against the Olympic spirit. However, he said he has "no intention" to step down.
Mori, 83, on Wednesday said board meetings with a lot of women "take so much time," in comments about a government initiative to increase representation of female directors. "Women have a strong sense of competition," and that is why "everyone speaks" so much, he added.
The remark immediately caught domestic attention and many Japanese people vented their feelings on social media. His comments eclipsed the International Olympics Committee's publication the same day of its action guidelines for sports federations.
His remarks quickly made waves overseas, and was picked up in publications from The New York Times to The Washington Post and The Guardian.
"Definitely going to corner this guy at the breakfast buffet," Hayley Wickenheiser, a Canadian IOC member, tweeted on Thursday.
"Yes, Mr. Mori, women can be concise. For example, to answer you, two words are sufficient: 'Shut up'," Nathalie Loiseau, a French politician currently serving as a Member of European Parliament, tweeted in French on Thursday.
Kaori Yamaguchi, an executive board member of the Japanese Olympic Committee, said the comments could further tarnish the image of the Tokyo Games, which were already delayed once due to the pandemic.
"I'm concerned that this incident is going to further sap the momentum for the Tokyo Olympics," said Yamaguchi, who is a former judo Olympian. "The Tokyo Games are being derided for issues that have nothing to do with athletes. Yet athletes are feeling the heat."
Shin Ushijima, a lawyer familiar with corporate governance issues, said the backlash overseas was expected.
"At overseas companies and organizations, people who say, 'men are this, and women are that' do not earn respect and are likely pushed out quickly," said Ushijima.
"Having more women in organizations is not just in line with the international norm, but is necessary to bring diversity into discussions and reach better conclusions," Ushijima added. "He does not seem to understand that an organization that shuns vigorous debate loses competitiveness."
Mori, a former prime minister, has a track record of making disparaging remarks. In 2000, when recalling a 1969 election win, he said: "When I was greeting farmers from my car, they all went into their homes. I felt like I had AIDS." As prime minister (2000-2001), his cabinet approval rating plummeted to 9% after poorly handling a fatal collision between a Japanese fishing vessel and a U.S. submarine.
Yet despite his gaffes and unpopularity, Mori was nominated as Tokyo 2020 president in January 2014 after a three-party meeting between the Japanese government, the Tokyo metropolitan government, and the Japan Olympic Committee.
Hakubun Shimomura, Olympic minister at that time, said that Mori was the best candidate because of his strong network with domestic and overseas sports and business circles. Mori has been involved in national sports organizations since he retired from politics in 2001, including the Japan Rugby Union.
The government reportedly offer the job to other candidates, such as Fujio Mitarai, president of Canon at that time, and Fujio Cho, the then honorary chairman of Toyota Motor. Both of them declined the offer.
On Twitter, posts with hashtag "#Please resign, Mr. Yoshiro Mori" went viral.
Noriko Mizoguchi, a former Japanese Olympic judo silver medalist, tweeted the IOC code of ethics, pointing to a clause on protecting human rights and rejecting any form of discrimination.
In an interview with the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, Mori stressed that he had "no intention to disparage women," but suggested that he would resign if public calls grow for him to be ousted.