— Published 8 February 2021

Yoshiro Mori, sexist and contested, but indispensable

With 165 days before the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Games are still written in the conditional. But a question seems raised. It concerns Yoshiro Mori, the chairman of the organising committee. Blamed, as of, last week for his misogynistic remarks, credited by an international NGO with the “gold medal for sexism”, the former prime minister will not resign. The matter is settled. He will keep his place.

In Japan, however, public opinion would readily see him walking through the door. A petition launched last Friday by several Japanese activists calling for his resignation as chair of the Tokyo Games organising committee has garnered more than 110 000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

At the same time, a poll conducted by Kyodo News over the past weekend reveals that 60% of those polled now deem Yoshiro Mori “unqualified” for his position. Only 6.8% of those polled admit to keeping their trust in leading the preparations for the Games.

By his own admission, Yoshiro Mori wanted to return his apron. He explained to the Mainichi Shimbun, “From the beginning, I did not feel a lasting attachment to the position of chairman (of the organising committee). So I wanted to quit first. But I refrained from doing so after being dissuaded from leaving office by Toshiro Muto (the managing director of the organising committee) and others“.

According to Kyodo News, Yoshiro Mori would have become essential as the head of the organising committee. A former university rugby player who served as President of the Japanese Rugby Federation, he was appointed President of the Tokyo Games in January 2014, when the organising committee was created.

Since then, the former Japanese prime minister is said to have won unanimous support, through his influence and his network, in politics and in the world of sport. He would have helped overcome several crises, especially when the IOC decided to move the marathon and walking events to Sapporo, or more recently when the Olympic and Paralympic Games were postponed for a year.

After his sexist remarks, the government officially called him to order, reciting the principles of the Olympic Charter like a punished student. But, behind the scenes, Yoshiro Mori was never let go.

Japanese Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda called his remarks totally “inappropriate“, but admits he never intended to demand his resignation.

Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, shares the same opinion. She, too, would like to see him retain his position in the months to come. Her bickering with Yoshiro Mori has, however, been often explosive in recent years, especially when the cost of the Games has soared to heights never before approached in Olympic history.

An anonymous source in Yoshihide Suga’s government, quoted by Kyodo News, suggests bluntly: “If he resigns, there will be no Olympics. We need him to continue no matter what“.

According to several major players in the Olympic movement, Yoshiro Mori has managed to build over the years a relationship “of equal” with Thomas Bach, the President of the IOC.

Clearly, Yoshiro Mori has become essential. In Japan, not a single name has been cited to replace him, after outcry over his sexist speech before the National Olympic Committee. “With less than six months until the Games, there is no alternative“, said a source familiar with the matter.

At 83, the former prime minister will therefore retain his chair. But his team will have to whip, in the weeks and months to come, to make people forget his remarks on “women who talk too long“.

As of last Saturday, the organising committee began sending an apology email to the 80 000 volunteers recruited for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The message begins with this line: “President Mori has made inappropriate comments that go against the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games“.

Sufficient? Not sure. According to the latest Kyodo News agency poll, carried out by phone on February 6th and 7th, 47.1% of those questioned think that the Tokyo Games should be postponed again, while they are 35.2% to estimate that the event should be canceled. In the opposite camp, only 14.5% of those polled said they wanted the Olympic and Paralympic meeting to go as planned.