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OLYMPICS | Yoshiro Mori Quits Tokyo 2020 Post; Saburo Kawabuchi Declines Appointment

Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto emerges as potential successor to Mori.

Ed Odeven

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Yoshiro Mori stepped down as president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee on Friday, February 12, just over a week after his sexist remarks about women engulfed the organization in controversy and massive criticism here and abroad.

Mori had asked 84-year-old Saburo Kawabuchi, a former Japan Football Association president and the J. League’s first chairman, to step in as his replacement, according to published reports.

It appeared that Kawabuchi would fulfill the 83-year-old Mori’s request, it was reported on Thursday, February 11, setting the stage for a formal announcement the next day.

But Kawabuchi declined the offer, setting in motion additional uncertainty about Tokyo 2020’s leadership ranks in the run-up to the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, which begin on July 23.

Which means Tokyo 2020 leadership must convene to choose a new president. 

The expected top candidate is Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto, who represented Japan in both the Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics as a speed skater and track cyclist. The 56-year-old Hashimoto is an LDP member of the House of Councillors. She previously served as the Japan Skating Federation president. 

Upon announcing his resignation, Mori, who served as Japan Prime Minister from April 2000 to April 2001, apologized for his much-publicized comments made on February 3 at a Japanese Olympic Committee Council meeting. 

“The important thing is that the Olympic Games are held in July,” Mori told reporters. “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, who also served as president of the Japan Rugby Football Union and played a pivotal leadership role in Japan winning the bid to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, was widely chastised for saying the following: “A meeting of an executive board that includes many women would take time. Women are competitive. When someone raises his or her hand and speaks, they probably think they should speak, too. That is why they all end up making comments.”

The next day, Mori apologized. But calls for his removal grew strong over the past several days.

Facing a storm of criticism for his comments on social media and throughout the global sports community and Olympic community, Mori became a lightning rod of controversy.

His request for Kawabuchi to step into the spotlight as his successor was ultimately turned down because of the image that it created in the public eye. 

“Mori-san is 83 years old, and I am 84,” Kawabuchi was quoted as saying by The Asahi Shimbun. “I really don’t like to hear people say, ‘Oh, an old man again?’ Old or not, I can do a great job. That’s what I wanna say.”

RELATED COVERAGE:
Tokyo Olympics Chief Yoshiro Mori Set to Resign After Sexist Comments; Saburo Kawabuchi Likely Successor
Public Pressure Builds on Japan’s Olympics Chief to Resign Over Sexist Remark

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has worked with local organizers and the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) to coordinate Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic plans since Tokyo was awarded the host city bid in September 2013, issued statements reacting to Mori’s resignation.

“The IOC fully respects President Mori’s decision to step down and understands his reasons for doing so,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “At the same time, we would like to thank him for his outstanding contribution to the organization of the postponed Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 over the course of the past years. Among his many accomplishments, President Mori helped to make Tokyo the best-ever prepared Olympic city. The IOC will continue working hand-in-hand with his successor to deliver a safe and secure Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021.”

John Coates, the IOC Coordination Commission chairman, said: “Throughout our eight years working together, President Mori was a strong and effective leader, who could always be trusted to find solutions even in the most difficult circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cooperation with President Mori has been outstanding. I would like to thank him for all his support and dedication.”



Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.