Yoshiro Mori stepped down as president of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee Friday following calls for his resignation after sexist comments made last week.
The resignation, however, is likely to leave many things in disarray, and is also going to fuel the gender inequality debate in Japan regardless of whether Mori’s replacement is a woman. The void at the helm comes at a crucial juncture -- with just five months left for the staging of the rescheduled Games and overwhelming public sentiment sweeping across Japan that the Olympics should not be held in the middle of a pandemic and related economic distress.
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The Tokyo executive board will not immediately choose a successor for Mori. CEO Toshiro Muto told the media that a successor would be named “as soon as possible”, and would be appointed by a review committee. Interestingly, the committee, Muto insisted, would be a “single-digit body” with equal representation of men and women. However, a timeframe for the process was not mentioned.
Gender inequality is rampant in Japan and Mori’s demeaning comments last week stirred up the issue. Women are largely not present in the political sphere and boardrooms in Japan. The country stands 121st out of 153 in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings. Even the Tokyo Games organising committee has very few women at key positions. Muto acknowledged that. However, he said that the new president will not be selected to moderate the gender debate.
“For myself in selecting the president, I don’t think we need to discuss or debate gender,” Muto was quoted by the Associated Press. “We simply need to choose the right person.”
Seiko Hashimoto, the current Olympic minister of Japan and a bronze medalist in speed skating in the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, is a strong candidate. She would tick all the right boxes — female, an Olympian, and has been working closely with the organising committee.
Japanese media joined in the speculation too, naming three “qualified women” — all athletes, Olympians and younger — who could be the next president.
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Kaori Yamaguchi, who won a bronze medal in judo at the 1988 Seoul Olympics; Mikako Kotani, who won two bronze medals at the same Games in synchronized swimming; and Naoko Takahashi, a gold medalist in marathon at Sydney 2000, were the ones mentioned.
However, the process of finding a replacement won’t be that simple either with many likely to throw their weight. That has already begun, in fact.
On Thursday, Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, former head of the Japanese football federation, was quoted in the media as saying that he was likely to be the successor to Mori.
Once the news was out, Kawabuchi withdrew himself from candidature at the board meeting.
“He (Kawabuchi) is not thinking of becoming president, even if he is asked he will decline,” Muto said.
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Mori’s departure took a week in the making. He had initially apologized but refused to step down. That drew relentless pressure from all quarters including from the sponsors of the Games as well as an online petition that attracted 150,000 signatures.
“As of today I will resign from the president’s position,” Mori, who was appointed in 2014, said to start the executive board and council meeting on Friday.
“My inappropriate comments have caused a lot of chaos,” he added. “As long as I remain in this position, it causes trouble. If that is the case, it will ruin everything we’ve built up.”
There is no guarantee though that Mori’s resignation would clear the air and the focus returns on the intricacies of staging the Games while the world is still struggling to control Covid-19.
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