TOKYO — Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, already facing rising costs and significant public opposition to this summer’s Games, faced a new furor on Wednesday after the president of the Tokyo organizing committee suggested women talk too much in meetings.
The president, Yoshiro Mori, stoked a social media backlash after news reports emerged of his comments demeaning women during an executive meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee that was held online.
“On boards with a lot of women, the board meetings take so much time,” Mr. Mori, 83, said to laughter, according to a report in the Asahi Shimbun, one of the country’s largest daily newspapers. “Women have a strong sense of competition. If one person raises their hand, others probably think, I need to say something too. That’s why everyone speaks.”
Mr. Mori, a former prime minister, was responding to a question asking him to comment on the Olympic committee’s plan to increase the number of women board members to more than 40 percent of the total.
“You have to regulate speaking time to some extent,” Mr. Mori said. “Or else we’ll never be able to finish.”
The reports came just as Olympic organizers were releasing guidelines to reassure citizens and visitors that they would be able to secure the safety of athletes and others during the rescheduled Games this summer.
On Twitter, users quickly began calling for Mori to resign. Others suggested Mori’s age, and his outdated attitude, were the real problem.
At a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Mori said he had no intention of resigning. “I recognize the remark was against the spirit of Olympics and Paralympics,” he said. “I deeply regret what I said.” Mr. Mori said he wanted to retract his remarks, and he apologized “to those who felt uncomfortable.”
In his original remarks, Mr. Mori, who has often been the public face of the Tokyo organizing committee as it has insisted the Games must go on in the midst of a global pandemic, seemed to make an exception for the women who currently serve on the committee. Those women, he suggested, are able to speak at a length that meets his standards for brevity.
These women “have experienced international arenas,” he said. “That’s why their talk is sophisticated, gets to the point, and they are very useful.”
With just over five months left before the Games are scheduled to start on July 23, Tokyo remains in a state of emergency, and vaccination of the public has yet to commence. Mori and the committee face many challenges persuading a public that has demonstrated in repeated polls that it is strongly opposed to Japan hosting the Games this summer. In one survey last month, 77 percent of the country favored canceling or postponing the Games.
Masa Takaya, a spokesman for the Tokyo organizing committee, said he had no comment on Mori’s remarks about women.
On social media, amid the calls for Mr. Mori’s resignation, others expressed dismay not only with his comments but that no one in the meeting had objected in the moment.
“Gender equality and consideration for people with disabilities were supposed to be a given for the Tokyo Games,” Kaori Yamaguchi, a former judo world champion, said, according to Kyodo News. “It is unfortunate to see the president of the organizing committee make such a remark.”