The president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organising committee, Yoshiro Mori, is expected to resign after derogatory comments he made about women caused an international uproar less than six months before the Games are due to open.
Mori, who has led the organising committee since 2014, will step down after insisting for days that he would not resign, the Fuji News Network reported on Thursday.
He is expected to announce his resignation on Friday when the executive board of the organising committee meets to discuss its response to the controversy, the Mainichi Shimbun said.
Mori, a former prime minister, has come under mounting pressure to give up his post after he told a meeting of the Japan Olympic Committee earlier this month that “talkative women” made meetings “drag on”.
Referring to his time as chairman of the Japan Rugby Football Union, the 83-year-old said: “Women have a strong sense of rivalry. If one raises her hand to speak, all the others feel the need to speak, too. Everyone ends up saying something.”
He later apologised and retracted the remarks – conceding that they had been “inappropriate” – but the fallout has intensified in recent days, frustrating attempts by Tokyo 2020 organisers and the International Olympic Committee to convince the world that it will be possible to hold the Games during the coronavirus pandemic.
His remarks, which came as Japanese sports organisations are trying to increase the number of women in senior positions, sparked a backlash in Japan and overseas.
The Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka was one of several athletes to condemn the comments, while female politicians in Japan attended a parliamentary session this week dressed in white in a symbolic protest.
Hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic volunteers have resigned in the past week, and organisers and the Tokyo metropolitan government have been inundated with complaints.
On Wednesday, the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, raised the stakes when she said she would boycott a key meeting scheduled for next week that was to include Mori, Japan’s sports minister Seiko Hashimoto and the IOC president Thomas Bach.
“Given the current situation, I don’t think it would send out a positive message,” Koike, who became the city’s first female governor in 2016, told reporters.
After initially insisting that Mori’s apology and retraction meant the matter was closed, the IOC backtracked this week, saying it regarded his remarks as “absolutely inappropriate and in contradiction to the IOC’s commitments and the reforms of its Olympic agenda 2020”.
It added: “Besides Mr Mori’s apology, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee also considers his comment to be inappropriate and has reaffirmed its commitment to gender equality.”
Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker and an Olympic sponsor, added its voice to the criticism.
“We are disappointed by the recent comments from [Mori], which are contrary to the values that Toyota respects and supports,” Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, said in remarks read out at a company earnings briefing on Wednesday.
Toyota had signed up as a major Tokyo 2020 partner because it shared the values with “the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which through sports aim to create a peaceful and an inclusive society without discrimination in which anyone can participate,” he added.
Other sponsors have also broken their silence to criticise Mori. Asahi Holdings, the holding company of beer maker Asahi Breweries, said his remarks were “disappointing and inappropriate considering the spirit of gender equality espoused” by the Games.
An executive of Eneos, a Japanese oil and metals company, said the company “deplored the sexist remarks from a viewpoint of respect for human rights”.