Mori expressed his “deepest apologies” on Friday and said he would hand in his resignation by the end of the day, acknowledging that his “inappropriate statement has caused a lot of chaos.”
“The important thing is that the Olympic Games are held in July,” Mori said. “If I am going to be a distraction to organizing the Games by being in my position, I think that is a situation we should avoid.”
Mori, a former Japanese Prime Minister, has been under fire since last week
, when he said that “board meetings with lots of women take longer” because “women are competitive — if one member raises their hand to speak, others might think they need to talk too,” according to reports in the Japanese press.
Speaking at a news conference last week, the 83-year-old confirmed he made the remarks behind closed doors and said he was sorry for doing so. He initially said he was not considering stepping down, but was forced to change course due to the continue public outrage in Japan, where women regularly face gender discrimination in the workplace and when seeking positions of power.
Japan’s country’s gender gap is “by far the largest among all advanced economies,” according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report
. The report ranked Japan 121 out of 153 countries, in part due to its findings that women only make up 5.3% of board members on listed companies and only 10% of parliamentarians, one of the lowest levels of female political representation in the world.
Mori said Friday that he “didn’t mean for (my comments) to neglect the women but I guess that it was broadcasted in that way.”
“I actually worked a lot to allow the women to voice out,” said Mori, who is the head of the organizing committee for the Games. “I appointed the women to give them an opportunity to state what they wanted to state,” he said. “I have no intention of neglecting women at all.”
Mori did, however, say he took offense to people who called him a “rougai,” a Japanese term that can be used to imply that the elderly are of no use and in fact a hindrance to society.
The term has become more popular in fast-graying Japan, where more than 20% of the population is older than 65
. Birth rates have been declining for years, leaving society with fewer young and working-aged people to support an increasingly elderly population in need of healthcare and pensions.
“I don’t like the word,” he said. “The elderly have worked hard to support this society and it’s quite frustrating when the elderly are neglected.”
The race to the Games
The Olympic Organizing Committee must now find a new leader as it races to open the Games on July 23 in a country struggling to cope with rising coronavirus
case numbers. The Summer Olympics and Paralympics were delayed last year due to Covid-19, and experts have said it may not be possible to postpone the event again.
Japan’s leaders have vowed the Games will be held, despite increasing public opposition and rising costs. A poll last month by national broadcaster NHK found that 77% of people in Japan think the Games should be canceled or further postponed, largely due to the logistical hurdles that stand in the way of hosting such a massive event in the middle of a public health crisis
The country’s medical system has been overwhelmed, even though it has the most hospital beds per capita in the developed world
. Cases have more than doubled in the past two months to more than 406,000, stretching Japan’s medical system to the brink.
As of February 4, more than 8,700 people who tested positive for Covid-19 were waiting for a hospital bed or space at an isolation center in 10 prefectures. The week before, more than 18,000 people across 11 prefectures were waiting, according to the prefectures’ health ministries.