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Olympic organizers are scrambling to deal with growing anger at remarks by the game's organizing chief in Japan. The remarks have been widely condemned as sexist. Repeated apologies by Japanese officials and Olympic officials have failed to stop the backlash. And this is the latest blow to the troubled games whose fate is already in doubt because of the pandemic. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: In Parliament Tuesday, opposition lawmakers took the floor wearing white roses in protest against the 83-year-old organizing chief Yoshiro Mori's remarks. The International Olympic Committee posted a new statement calling Mori's remarks absolutely inappropriate.
At a Japanese Olympic Committee meeting last week, Mori answered a question about increasing the number of female board members on the committee. He replied that women's speaking time needs to be limited, otherwise meetings would never finish.
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KUHN: On the streets of Tokyo's Tamachi neighborhood, there seems to be little sympathy for Mori and his views.
CHIHARU SHINOZAKI: (Speaking Japanese).
KUHN: "I think he should resign," says IT worker Chiharu Shinozaki. "Now the reputation of the games is going down, and I think his resignation is one of the options if we're going to hold the games with everybody feeling happy."
Mori served for a year as prime minister about two decades ago and has a reputation for gaffes, but...
CHELSEA SCHIEDER: I'm really persuaded it's not gaffes.
KUHN: Chelsea Schieder is a historian at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.
SCHIEDER: This is the actual procedures, and these are the actual conversations that are happening.
KUHN: Particularly happening, she adds, within the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, which has ruled Japan for most of the past seven decades.
SCHIEDER: The LDP's track record on gender politics is really bad. And the LDP didn't even start thinking about how it was going to incorporate and promote more women within its ranks until opposition parties began to do so.
KUHN: A recent Kyodo News poll found that 60% of respondents think Mori is unfit to be head of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee. Hundreds of volunteers have quit in protest, and some Olympic torch relay runners have, too. But to heavyweights in the fields of sports and politics, Mori is the go-to guy. He's the former head of the Japan Sport Association and an influential figure in the LDP's most powerful faction.
DAVID LEHENY: If you're not actually part of the government, you know that all you have to do is make one phone call to Mori, and he's going to know exactly who to talk to in order to get something done.
KUHN: David Leheny is a political scientist at Waseda University in Tokyo. He says Mori has clout in the backrooms where the LDP discusses policy and makes deals.
LEHENY: It's an old boys club. It's a club in which women generally aren't speaking or which women aren't playing leadership roles. And if they are, they're actually often criticized for being too ambitious or being too loud. So if anything, the very thing that makes them valuable is the very thing that makes them likely to say something like this that causes such public problems.
KUHN: The Kyodo News agency reports that Japan's Olympic Committee will hold a special executive meeting as early as this week to discuss the controversy surrounding Mori's remarks. Japan's Olympic minister says the meeting will discuss whether Mori should resign or not.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.