Japan’s Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori has resigned after coming under fierce criticism for insensitive comments, such as his remark that meetings with many women take longer.
Gender equality and fighting discrimination are principles of the Olympic Charter, as well as goals shared by people around the world. Mori’s resignation as president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is appropriate in light of his comments.
But the saga should not end here. The story has highlighted an old-fashioned way of thinking — male-centric and intolerant of dissent — still prevalent in the Olympic Committee and in Japanese society at large.
Recognizing and addressing inappropriate behavior is a key issue. When Mori made his comments during a meeting, no one there objected. The government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga initially avoided commenting on Mori’s damaging statements. Suga said it was inappropriate only after being criticized by opposition lawmakers, but remained elusive on whether Mori should resign. Some within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party even defended Mori. Many failed to understand the seriousness of the problem.
Another issue is transparency. Mori approached Saburo Kawabuchi, a former president of the Japan Football Association, about succeeding him as committee chief. Kawabuchi at one point indicated he would accept the position, but ultimately refused. Backroom collusion among insiders like Mori to choose their own successors is totally inappropriate and does not go down well with the public.
Both of these issues are not limited to Mori. They are deep-rooted structural problems in Japan. Society must cast off these outdated mentalities and change the way of doing business.
The organizing committee set up a group comprising primarily athletes that will choose its next president. It is important that the process be transparent.
The new chief will be expected to firmly adhere to the principle of gender equality, and take concrete steps to implement it. The committee will also have to create an environment in which a diverse array of people can speak freely. New ideas will not come from meetings or closed rooms where dissent is forbidden.
There are also practical difficulties to address. First, with the ongoing pandemic the committee must take measures to ensure the games will be safe and secure. It has already announced policies for inspecting and restricting the activities of athletes entering the country. The committee is considering limiting the number of spectators or barring them altogether. Its decisions must be based on scientific evidence.
A poll conducted by Nikkei at the end of January showed that 46% of respondents thought the games should be canceled if the pandemic continues, and 36% thought they should be postponed.
The committee’s new leadership has no time to waste to revamp its own culture and that of the country’s broader sports community. Doing so will be the foundation for Japan to have the world behind it in successfully hosting an Olympic Games that have already proved to be a major challenge.