Yoshiro Mori, who recently made derogatory remarks about women, has stepped down as chairman of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee.
He bears a heavy responsibility for violating the dignity of women. His comment also goes against the ban on all forms of discrimination under the Olympic Charter, and the mission of the Tokyo Games to uphold “diversity and inclusion.” Mori’s resignation was absolutely called for, and did not happen soon enough.
At an emergency meeting of the Tokyo Games organizing committee’s councilors and executive board members on Feb. 12, Mori explained that he was leaving his post because “my presence stands in the way of various preparations for the Tokyo Games.”
Referring to his previous remarks about how having many women present unnecessarily prolongs the length of meetings, which sparked a global outcry, he said, “It’s a matter of interpretation. There was some deliberate reporting on my comment, too.” This indicates that he does not understand the true nature of the problem.
Ultimately, what drove Mori to step down was the voices of the people.
Earlier, Mori had merely apologized and taken back his comment, denying that he would resign as committee chairman. Both the Tokyo Games organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted Mori’s intention to continue in his post, displaying their lack of self-cleansing capabilities.
But online, posts with hashtags such as #wakimaenaionna or “women who don’t know their place” — in response to Mori’s comment that women in the organizing committee were “women who understood their place”– went viral.
A slew of people who had signed up to volunteer at the games and those who were scheduled to run in the torch relay stepped down in protest of Mori’s remarks, and non-stop emails and phone calls overwhelmed the organizing committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Eventually, even the games’ sponsors and the IOC gave up on Mori.
The Tokyo Games is committed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes the realization of gender equality. Mori’s remarks as the chairman of the games’ hosting party obviously trample on this mission.
The problem is not limited to the Tokyo Games organizing committee. The series of events surrounding Mori’s remarks exposed Japanese society’s anachronistic way of getting things done, in which objections fall on deaf ears and things often proceed according to logic laid down by closeted groups of insiders. What became partly clear is that in male-dominated organizations, there is a strong tendency to avoid making waves, and when a problem does erupt, priority is placed on attaining short-term stability.
We hope that this latest controversy serves as a catalyst to right Japanese society’s old wrongs, and raises awareness toward a coexistence that respects people of diverse opinions and positions. The Olympics and the Paralympics are a place where such values are shared with people from around the world.
Also, it is necessary to review why the Tokyo Games organizing committee had Mori as its chairman to begin with.
It was in 2005 that Mori became the chairman of both the Japan Sports Association and the Japan Rugby Football Union.
After Japan’s economic bubble burst, the financially straitened athletic world, which could no longer depend on private funds, found itself relying on public subsidies to cultivate and train athletes. Under such circumstances, politicians went on to gain a foothold in the sector. Mori, in particular, was a heavyweight among the Liberal Democratic Party legislators who had sway in sports administration.
As a result, an insular atmosphere in which objections could not be uttered was born. Undemocratic and opaque governance became noticeable.
During the bidding process for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, suspicions arose that slush money had been used to gather votes for Tokyo, and Tsunekazu Takeda, Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) president at the time, resigned.
Former judoka and Olympic gold medalist Yasuhiro Yamashita, who succeeded Takeda, closed executive meetings to the public.
The postponement of the Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus involved ulterior motives of politicians; it was initiated by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and decided upon by Mori and just a few other top leaders.
That former Prime Minister Mori became the organizing committee chief at the behest of then Prime Minister Abe was very much a case of political interference in sports. And yet, when the scandal over Mori’s statement broke, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga avoided getting involved.
Japan’s antiquated way of doing things emerged when it came to choosing a successor to Mori, too. Mori himself requested that former chairman of the Japan Football Association, Saburo Kawabuchi, with whom he has a secret understanding, succeed him.
But for Mori, who is resigning because of his problematic behavior, to name the next chairman behind closed doors without going through the appropriate procedures, is unacceptable.
The chairman is chosen by members of the executive board. Sensing that there were objections to skipping this process, Kawabuchi, who had just a day earlier told reporters he was ready to fulfill his duty as the next chairman, retracted his acceptance of the post. We are now back to square one in the search for the next chief.
The organizing committee says that transparency in selecting the next chairman is vital, and that it is poised to establish a committee including athletes that will consider candidates for Mori’s successor. A democratic and fair process is indispensable.
The latest controversy is not just about replacing the chairman. The organizing committee must use this as an opportunity to build itself back up.