On Thursday, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee dismissed the opening ceremony director for a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy event in 1998.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, announced that director Kentaro Kobayashi had been fired a day before the opening ceremony. He was accused of adding a Holocaust joke in his comedy performance, with the line “Let’s play Holocaust.”
“We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Hashimoto said. “We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties and the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country.”
Since being awarded the Games in 2013, controversies have beset Tokyo. French authorities are investigating suspected payments made to International Olympic Committee members to influence the vote for Tokyo. Tsunekazu Takeda, the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and an IOC member, resigned two years ago because of the consequences.
The Games’ pandemic-delayed opening ceremony is set for Friday. The ceremony will be performed without spectators to avoid the spread of coronavirus illnesses; however, certain officials, visitors, and journalists will be present.
“We are going to have the opening ceremony tomorrow, and yes, I am sure there are many people who are not feeling easy about the opening of the Games,” Hashimoto said. “But we are going to open the Games tomorrow under this difficult situation.”
Earlier this week, composer Keigo Oyamada, whose music was set to be played during the event, was forced to quit because of the previous bullying of his peers, which he boasted about in magazine interviews. The piece of music he composed will not be used.
Soon after a video clip and screenplay of Kobayashi’s performance were released, social media was inundated with criticism.
“Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and worldwide social action director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization in Los Angeles.
He also said that the Nazis gassed disabled Germans.
“Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics,” he said.
Kobayashi is a former member of the renowned comedy team Rahmens and is well-known in Japan for his comedy series “The Japanese Tradition.”
Japan is from now on with the Olympics over the recommendation of most of its medical professionals. This is due to pressure from the IOC, which is expected to lose $3 billion to $4 billion in broadcast rights revenue if the Games are not staged.
“We have been preparing for the last year to send a positive message,” Hashimoto said. “Toward the very end now there are so many incidents that give a negative image toward Tokyo 2020.”
The CEO of the Tokyo organizing committee, Toshiro Muto, recognized the reputational impact as well.
“Maybe these negative incidents will affect the positive message we wanted to deliver to the world,” he said.
The last-minute controversies come as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government faces criticism for prioritizing the Olympics over public health concerns amid a coronavirus outbreak.
The latest snubs to the Games were Kobayashi’s Holocaust joke and Oyamada’s resignation. Yoshiro Mori resigned as president of the organizing committee because of sexist statements.
Hiroshi Sasaki quit as artistic director for the opening and closing ceremonies after recommending that a Japanese actress dress as a pig.
Also, this week, the chiropractor for the American women’s wrestling team apologized on social media for equating Olympic COVID-19 protocols to Nazi Germany. Rosie Gallegos-Main, the team’s chiropractor since 2009, may complete her pre-Olympic camp stay in Nakatsugawa, Japan.
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