Tokyo 2020 outgoing chief Mori had a history of blunders, sexist remarks

Elaine Lies
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori in Tokyo

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, set to step down on Friday after making sexist comments about women, has a history of gaffes, blunders and sexist remarks, which marred his brief 2000-01 tenure as prime minister and political life.

Japanese media said on Thursday he was set to resign on Friday.

Mori, 83, who has fought lung cancer for years, once said his last public service to Japan would be leading the Tokyo Summer Games to a successful conclusion.

But he was forced to step down fewer than six months before the start of the Games, postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, after setting off a firestorm with remarks that women talked too long - comments he retracted, but then doubled down on his reasons for making them.

"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," Mori said.

"We have about seven women at the organising committee but everyone understands their place."

The comments set off a furore on social media, both at home and abroad, forcing a hasty news conference on Feb. 4.

There, Mori first said his comments were "inappropriate" and against the Olympic spirit, but then said he did not necessarily think that fretting over the number of women in high-ranking position was what was important.

"I don't listen to women that much lately so I don't know," Mori said, when asked by a reporter whether he had any basis for his original remarks.

A passionate rugby player and fan who sang support songs for his university sports teams when drinking, Mori compared the game to his relationship with the coalition government he helmed as premier, remarking, "In rugby, one person doesn't become a star, one person plays for all, and all play for one".

But his brief tenure as prime minister was marked by a string of gaffes and blunders, such as continuing to play golf even after learning that a Japanese student fishing boat had been struck and sunk by a U.S. submarine with the loss of nine lives, setting off a diplomatic crisis with Japan's most important ally.

Mori, a native of northwestern Japan, came to power after his predecessor, the well-liked Keizo Obuchi, collapsed with a fatal stroke in April 2000.

Just months before taking office, he joked about an election campaign that "when I was greeting farmers from their cars, they all went into their homes. I felt like I had AIDS".

He also said of the United States and the Year 2000 problem, when all computers were suppose to break down when it struck 01/01/2000, "when there's a blackout, the murderers always come out. It's that type of society".

Once premier, his support ratings began sliding within weeks, and a year later they were in single digits and he was out of the job.

Mori remained a lawmaker until 2012, working on Japan-Russia relations - one of his few specialities - and sports-related advocacy, including helping to bid for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.

But his gaffes continued.

"I wouldn't call women who don't have even one child selfish, but it's a bit strange they should be supported with tax money after they've enjoyed their freedom," he said in 2003, two years after leaving office.

In 2014, the year he was appointed head of Tokyo 2020, he sparked outrage by saying skater Mao Asada had a habit of "always falling at the most critical time".

Mori is married to Chieko, whom he met while they were both students at Tokyo's Waseda University, and cleared all his decisions with her first. He was quoted on Feb 4 as saying that both she and his grown daughter scolded him about the sexist remarks about women.

But the damage was done.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Michael Perry)