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Tokyo Olympic chief Mori 'decided to quit' over sexist gaffe, was 'persuaded' to stay on

Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, closes his eyes during a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Pool Photo via AP)

TOKYO -- Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games organizing committee, disclosed on Feb. 5 that he initially decided to step down from his post after he came under fire for his derogatory comments about women, but held back after being persuaded by committee officials.

    In a news conference following his highly publicized gaffe, Mori ruled out the possibility of stepping down from his post. Providing the background to this position in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on Feb. 5, Mori commented, "From the beginning, I had no lingering attachment to the post of president (of the organizing committee), and I initially decided to resign. But I held back after being strongly persuaded by (organizing committee secretary-general) Toshiro Muto and others."

    The Mainichi reported in its online news flash on the morning of Feb. 4 that Mori had "referred to the possibility of stepping down." It appears that senior officials of the organizing committee hurriedly made moves to avert confusion in the management of the 2020 Games due to a possible absence of the top figure.

    A tense atmosphere hung over the organizing committee's secretariat in Tokyo's Harumi area when Mori arrived there shortly after 11 a.m. on Feb. 4. Muto, with a grave look, told Mori, "President, you shouldn't (resign)." The Mainichi Shimbun's online flash had broken an hour earlier.

    "I hadn't said I would go as far as resigning, but senior officials of the organizing committee probably took my comments that way. But in truth, I had made up my mind to step down. I thought it would be better if the problem -- which caused repercussions even abroad due to my careless remarks -- could settle if I stepped down. I told my wife, 'I will quit,' and left home. My wife probably thought then that I would resign."

    Mori, however, subsequently backed down from his intention to give up his post.

    "Everyone persuaded me not to resign. They said if I quit as president now, the International Olympic Committee would get rather worried, and Japan would lose confidence, so please persevere," he recalled.

    Mori also revealed that he received reports from Toshiaki Endo, acting president of the organizing committee and former Olympic minister, that Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike were also worried.

    "When I looked around, those who didn't say anything were all crying. What struck home most were Mr. Muto's words: 'If you step down as president, what would become of this organization of 5,000 people?'" Mori recalled.

    While determined to leave his post, he entered the organizing committee's secretariat. Just three hours later, at 2 p.m., Mori found himself at the press conference venue, offering an apology and retracting his derogatory remarks about women. There, he clearly denied his intention to resign.

    When asked during the latest interview with the Mainichi about whether he had a plan in mind about who could succeed him as leader of the gigantic organization, Mori said, "Originally, I had been thinking that I would retire after putting together this organization patched together with personnel from the public and private sectors in about three years, and hand it over to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But because his government lasted for a long time, the plan didn't eventuate, and I ended up staying on. (This time) Mr. Abe's face crossed my mind, but then I thought it would cause him trouble as the games are just six months away. I had worries regarding that point." Mori stopped short of mentioning the names of any other individuals as possible successors.

    In the meantime, criticism of Mori's remarks continues in Japan and abroad. When quizzed if he is still determined to serve out his role as president of the organizing committee even if it means he has to tread a thorny path, Mori replied, "Everyone at the organizing committee told me they would support me properly, and a host of Diet lawmakers also encouraged me, saying 'There's no point in you quitting now' -- even though this hasn't been reported."

    Mori, however, appeared to be wavering deep down. "My wife is watching my behavior calmly, but my granddaughter is enraged. She said she couldn't sleep and even took leave from office. She called me just now and said, 'Quit right now. You don't have to shorten your life to keep working anymore. If you aren't going to resign, I'll quit my job.' I told her I was sorry, and that she shouldn't talk nonsense, but I was shocked. It hurts," he said.

    (Japanese original by Takuma Suzuki, Integrated Digital News Center)

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