TOKYO -- The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics were in turmoil on Friday after its president resigned over sexist remarks and his anointed successor turned down the job.
Less than six months before the planned opening of the Tokyo Olympics, the organizing committee is scrambling to find a new president to replace Yoshiro Mori. The 83-year-old former prime minister stepped down over the comments he made a week ago -- remarks that drew a storm of domestic and international criticism and exposed Japan's poor record on female participation at the highest level.
Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, a former Japan Football Association president and soccer player, had been slated to replace Mori as the president. But he declined an offer to lead the committee, Nikkei learned Friday -- a decision that followed criticism that Mori had appointed him as successor in a vague selection process.
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said the same day the committee will set up a team to search for a new president.
Muto said the members of the task force of up to nine people, led by Fujio Mitarai, honorary president of Tokyo 2020 and chairman and CEO of Canon, would be split evenly between male and female members. It would include athletes and officials from the Japan Olympic Committee, as well as the national and Tokyo metropolitan governments.
"We need to appoint a successor as soon as possible," said Muto, who did not say when the committee would name the new president. "A transparent selection process is indispensable."
Several members of Tokyo 2020 said there was a lack of female representation in the Tokyo 2020 committee, and Muto said a project team would be established to improve gender equality within the organization.
Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, 56, who represented Japan as a speed skater and track cyclist in multiple Summer and Winter Games, has been touted as a potential candidate by domestic media.
When asked about her, Muto said that "there are many people" who have the necessary qualities. Hashimoto said on Friday the organizing committee should pick a replacement swiftly.
Mori said during a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee in Tokyo on Feb. 3 that board meetings with women "take so much time." Because of their "strong sense of competition," he said, "if one person raises their hand, others probably think, 'I need to say something, too.'"
The remarks came during a discussion over efforts to increase female representation on the committee's board.
Mori withdrew his comments the next day and apologized to "everyone who was offended," saying the remarks "ran counter to the spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics."
"I resign as Tokyo 2020 president today," the former prime minister said on Friday. "The most important thing is to hold the Games in July, so I cannot be any hindrance to this aim."
"The IOC fully respects President Mori's decision to step down and understands his reasons for doing so," the International Olympic Committee said in a statement on Friday. "The IOC will continue working hand-in-hand with his successor to deliver safe and secure Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021."