TOKYO: A petition calling for action against Yoshiro Mori, head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee who caused an uproar with sexist comments, gathered tens of thousands of signatures on Friday, a day after its launch by Japanese activists.
Mori, 83, set off a storm on social media at home and abroad by saying women talked too much, in remarks made in a meeting with the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC). He later retracted the comments and apologised but refused to resign.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Thursday Mori's apology had settled the issue, but Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the games were facing a "major issue".
Student activist Momoko Nojo, who leads a group called 'No Youth, No Japan', said she and other activists started the petition on Change.org to convey the public's anger to Mori.
By 1330 GMT on Friday, the petition had nearly 87,000 signatures.
"The Olympics is an international event, and he is the top person representing Japan. It is not right for him to make such remarks, and for everyone to let it go by saying 'Oh well, he's a grandpa'. If there are people who say it is wrong, if they think it is wrong, we have to voice it," Nojo said.
The petition calls on the JOC to take action against Mori, although it stops short of calling for his removal. Nojo said the incident had angered many people in Japan and reflected wider societal problems.
"This situation with Mori is not only his personal problem or an issue with the Olympics. It's also a problem within companies and top-down organization structures in Japanese society," she told Reuters.
"It is a problem when people cannot speak up when someone superior says something outdated. We want to take this opportunity to change that through our petition so that people can speak up more and our society will change for the better."
Japan persistently trails its peers in promoting gender equality, ranking 121 out of 153 nations surveyed in the 2020 global gender gap report of the World Economic Forum.
The anger caused by Mori's comments was evident in some of the messages posted under the petition. "Please have a generational change," one signatory wrote. "Don't look down on women" and "President Mori should resign", other messages read.
The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The opening ceremony is scheduled for July 23.
(Reporting by Akiko Okamoto, Rikako Maruyama and Akira Tomoshige; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Janet Lawrence)