“My comments at the JOC committee meeting yesterday were inappropriate, and go against the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I deeply regret them, and retract the comments,” said the 83-year-old former Japanese prime minister in a press conference on Thursday.
The remarks in question came during a meeting of the Japan Olympic Committee a day earlier. More than 50 councilors took part, some online. They were discussing the committee's goal of having women make up at least 40% of board members when Mori spoke out.
“Meetings that involve a lot of women take too long because they talk too much,” he said.
He referred to his experience as head of the Japan Rugby Football Union, saying the increasing number of female board members there led to meetings lasting twice as long. He attributed this to “women's strong sense of rivalry.” He said if one member raises her hand to speak, others feel compelled to do so as well, and so everyone ends up saying something.
None of the participants responded to Mori's comments.
Foreign media outlets have given Mori's remarks extensive coverage. An article in The New York Times says the controversy adds to the burden on organizers, who are already facing rising costs and significant public opposition to this summer's Games. It highlights calls on social media for Mori to resign, noting that many people were dismayed no one in the meeting had objected to his comments.
France’s AFP news agency wrote that Mori “risked sparkling a sexism row.” The agency also noted that in last year’s World Economic forum gender gap index, Japan ranked 121st of 153 nations.
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has said it was “a remark that should not have been made” and said the participation of women in the governance of sport is very important.
The minister in charge of the Games, Hashimoto Seiko, rebuked Mori in person on Thursday, telling him that gender equality is enshrined in the Olympic Charter and must be protected. The charter denounces discrimination for any reason, including race, skin color, or gender.
The Japan Society for Sport and Gender Studies has issued a statement saying Mori's comment will give the impression that sexism is rampant in a leading organization in Japan.
“I think it's quite disgraceful,” said Raita Kyoko, the head of the society. “Someone at the meeting should have spoken up and said his remark was discriminatory against women and not in line with the current direction of the sporting world.”
But so far, Mori is determined to stay in the job he has held for the past seven years. And despite his apology, he seems more irritated than contrite.
“I have no intention of resigning,” he said in Thursday’s press conference. “But if everyone thinks I’m in the way, then maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m just an old man that should be thrown out with the garbage.”