The governor of Tokyo apologised to the Muslim world Tuesday after saying Islamic countries have nothing in common but Allah and “fighting with each other”.
Naoki Inose, whose city is bidding for the 2020 Olympic Games, was forced into the climbdown after telling the New York Times that Islamic nations are belligerent and overly hierarchical.
The comments were seen as a slight on bidding rival Istanbul, which is vying to become the first city from the Muslim world to host the Games.
After returning from New York, Inose initially defended his remarks, saying the article did not reflect his true opinions.
But on Tuesday, a chastened Inose appeared before television cameras to say sorry.
Inose’s comments come as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to arrive in Saudi Arabia, on the first stop of a swing through the Middle East that will also include Turkey.
He is expected to hold a summit with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara Friday, amid speculation that a Japanese-French consortium is on the verge of signing a multi-billion dollar deal to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Tokyo’s bid office had already moved to neutralise the impact of the gaffe, amid fears it may fall foul of International Olympic Committee rules prohibiting criticism of other bid cities.
In a statement submitted to the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Tokyo 2020 said they had been taken by surprise by the article and said it may have given the impression that it had gone beyond the IOC rules preventing negative comments about other cities.
Unlike many other developed countries, largely mono-ethnic Japan does not have a significant Muslim population, and there is little emphasis in the educational curriculum on cultural sensitivity.