Tokyo Olympics creative director Hiroshi Sasaki is resigning after making demeaning comments about a well-known female celebrity.
It is yet another setback for the postponed games and another involving comments about women. The Olympics are to open in just over four months, dogged by the pandemic, record costs and numerous scandals.
In February, the president of the organizing committee Yoshiro Mori was forced to resign after making sexist comments, saying women talk too much in meetings.
Two years ago, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee Tsunekazu Takeda was also forced to step down in a bribery scandal connected to vote-buying involving International Olympic Committee members.
Sasaki was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics, which are to begin on July 23. Last year he told planning staff members that well-known entertainer Naomi Watanabe could perform in the ceremony as an “Olympig.”
Watanabe is a heavy-set woman and very famous in Japan, and “Olympig” was a play on the word “Olympic.”
‘It is unforgivable’
Sasaki released a statement early on Thursday saying he was stepping down. He said he had also called Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee, and tendered his resignation.
“For Ms. Naomi Watanabe, my idea and comments are a big insult. And it is unforgivable,” Sasaki said. “I offer my deepest regrets and apologize from the depth of my heart to her, and those who may have been offended by this.”
“It is truly regrettable, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart,” he added.
Hashimoto, who replaced Mori, was scheduled to speak later on Thursday.
Sasaki formerly worked for the giant Japanese advertising company Dentsu Inc., which has been a key supporter of these Olympics. It is the official marketing partner and has helped to raise a record of $ 3.5 billion in local sponsorship, almost three times as much as any previous Olympics.
The torch relay for the Olympics kicks off next week from northeastern Japan and will be a severe test with 10,000 runners crisscrossing Japan for four months, heading to the opening ceremony and trying to avoid spreading COVID-19.
Organizers and the IOC insist the Olympics will go forward during the pandemic with 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes entering Japan. Official costs for Tokyo are $ 15.4 billion but several government audits show the real cost might be twice that much.
A University of Oxford study says Tokyo is the most expensive Olympics on record.
Yoshiro Mori resigned Friday as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee following sexist comments implying women talk too much.
“As of today I will resign from the president’s position,” he said to open an executive board and council meeting. The board was expected to pick his successor later on Friday.
“My inappropriate comments have caused a lot of chaos,”he said. He repeated several times he had regret over the remarks, but also said he had “no intention of neglecting women.”
Mori’s departure comes after more than a week of non-stop criticism about his remarks earlier this month. He initially apologized but refused to step away, which was followed by relentless pressure from television pundits, sponsors, and an online petition that drew 150,000 signatures.
But it’s not clear that his resignation will clear the air and return the focus to exactly how Tokyo can hold the Olympics in just over five months in the midst of a pandemic.
The Olympics are to open on July 23, with 11,000 athletes and 4,400 more in the Paralympics a month later. About 80 per cent in recent polls in Japan say they want the Olympics cancelled or postponed, with clear support from about 15 per cent.
Early reports said the 83-year-old Mori had picked 84-year-old Saburo Kawabuchi, the former president of the governing body of Japanese soccer and a former player himself. He played for Japan in the 1964 Olympics.
WATCH | Head of Toyko Olympics under fire for sexist comments:
Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori acknowledged that his comments that women board members talked too much were ‘inappropriate’ and against the Olympic spirit. Mori said that he would not resign, however. 2:03
Kawabuchi is even older than Mori and will raise the issue of why a woman was not appointed. This is the centre of the entire debate that Mori triggered over gender inequality in Japan and the absence of women in boardrooms, politics, and sports governance. Women are also largely absent in leadership roles at the organizing committee.
Kawabuchi indicated on Thursday he had been contacted by Mori. But he said later he indicated he might not be the appropriate choice.
Japanese media immediately pointed out there were three qualified women — all athletes and former Olympians and at least a generation younger — who could fill the job.
Kaori Yamaguchi won a bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics in judo. Mikako Kotani won two bronze medals in the 1988 Olympics in synchronized swimming. And Naoko Takahashi was a gold medallist in the marathon in the 2000 Olympics.
Spotlight on gender equality
Seiko Hashimoto, the current Olympic minister and a former Olympian, has also been mentioned as a candiate.
Mori’s remarks have put the spotlight on how far Japan lags behind other prosperous countries in advancing women in politics or the boardrooms. Japan stands 121st out of 153 in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings.
Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo, characterized Japan as a country still run “by a club of old men.” But he said this could be a watershed.
“Social norms are changing,”he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “A clear majority of the Japanese found Mori’s comments unacceptable, so the problem is more to do with the lack of representation of women in leadership positions. This sorry episode may have the effect of strengthening the call for greater gender equality and diversity in the halls of power.”
Though some on the street called for Mori to resign — several hundred Olympic volunteers say they are withdrawing — most decision makers including Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stopped short of this and simply condemned his remarks.
A comment a few days ago from Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda seemed to move the needle.
Toyota is one of 14 so-called Olympic TOP sponsors that pay about $ 1 billion US every four-year cycle to the International Olympic Committee. The company seldom speaks out on politics, and Toyota did not call for Mori’s resignation. But just speaking on the matter might have been enough.
“The (Mori) comment is different from our values, and we find it regrettable.” Toyoda said.
Toyota and Coca-Cola also are major sponsors of the torch relay.
The long saga of Yoshiro Mori appears to be near the end.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency and others reported on Thursday — citing unnamed sources — that Yoshiro Mori will step down on Friday as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee.
The move follows his sexist comments about women more than a week ago, and an ensuing and rare public debate in Japan about gender equality.
A decision is expected to be announced on Friday when the organizing committee’s executive board meets. The executive board of Tokyo 2020 is overwhelmingly male, as is the day-to-day leadership.
The 83-year-old Mori, in a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee more than a week ago, essentially said that women “talk too much” and are driven by a “strong sense of rivalry.” Mori, a former prime minister, gave a grudging apology a few days later after his opinions were reported, but declined to resign.
This is more than just another problem for the postponed Olympics, which have made the risky choice of trying to open on July 23 in the middle of a pandemic with 11,000 athletes — and later, 4,400 Paralympic athletes.
Country lags in gender equality
More than 80 per cent of the Japanese public in recent polls say the Olympics should be postponed or cancelled.
Mori’s remarks have drawn outrage from many quarters and have put the spotlight on how far Japan lags behind other prosperous countries in advancing women in politics or the boardrooms. Japan stands 121st out of 153 in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings.
Though some on the street have called for him to resign — several hundred Olympic volunteers say they are withdrawing — most decision makers have stopped short of this and have simply condemned his remarks. Japan is a country that works largely on consensus with politicians — often elderly and male — acting behind the scenes and leaking trial balloons to sense public sentiment.
Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori on Thursday apologized for making sexist remarks about women, saying he retracted the comments and would not resign, despite calls for him to step down on social media.
The hashtag “Mori, please resign” was trending on Twitter in Japan on Thursday morning and some users on the platform were calling on sponsors to pressure the Tokyo organizing committee into dropping Mori from the top post.
The 83-year-old Mori, a former Japanese prime minister and head of the Tokyo organizing committee, acknowledged that his comments that women board members talked too much were “inappropriate” and against the Olympic spirit.
Mori made the sexist comments at a Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board of trustees meeting this week, according to a report in the Asahi newspaper.
“If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” said Mori, according to the Asahi report.
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With less than six months to go to the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have said the Games will go on no matter what. Now, they’ve released some preliminary guidelines explaining how that will happen. 1:37
“We have about seven women at the organizing committee but everyone understands their place.”
The JOC decided in 2019 to aim for more than 40 per cent female members on the board, but there are just five women among the board’s 24 members.
Japan persistently trails its peers on promoting gender equality, ranking 121 out of 153 nations surveyed in the 2020 global gender gap report of the World Economic Forum.
In a hastily called press briefing, Mori tried to explain himself, at first apologizing, then later saying that he did not necessarily think that fretting over the number of women in high-ranking positions was what was important.
“I don’t talk to women that much lately so I don’t know,” Mori said, when asked by a reporter whether he had any basis for saying that women board members talked too much during meetings.
Mori’s defiant response is unlikely to tamp down public criticism, and anger over his comments is likely to further alienate a Japanese public that has grown wary of Tokyo’s attempts to hold the Games during a pandemic.
Nearly 80 per cent of the Japanese public opposes holding the Games as scheduled in July, according to the most recent poll.
One of the numerous Hollywood figures to face allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct is director James Toback, who collaborated with Baldwin on his last two films — The Private Life of a Modern Woman, in which the actor had a small role opposite Sienna Miller, and the documentary Seduced and Abandoned, which Baldwin and Toback essentially created together.
In October, the Los Angeles Timespublished a report featuring allegations from over 30 women, which described an alleged pattern of Toback’s intimidation and inappropriate behavior, including lewd comments and touching. The Times later reported that the number of accusers had grown to over 320.
Toback, 72, denied the allegations to the Times, and said he either had never met or or barely recalled meeting the women making the claims.