TOKYO – The Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee on Thursday fired the director of the opening ceremony over a Holocaust joke during a comedy show in 1998.
Organizing committee chairman Seiko Hashimoto said a day before the opening ceremony that director Kentaro Kobayashi had been sacked. He was accused of using a joke about the Holocaust, including the phrase “Let’s Play the Holocaust” in his comedy act.
“We learned that Mr. Kobayashi used a phrase to ridicule a historical tragedy in his performance,” Hashimoto said. “We deeply apologize for this development a day before the opening ceremony and for causing trouble and concern to many of the parties involved as well as to people in Tokyo and the rest of the country.”
The opening ceremony of the pandemic delayed Games is to take place on Friday. The ceremony will be held without spectators as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection, although some officials, guests and the media will attend.
“We are going to have the opening ceremony tomorrow and yes, I’m sure there are a lot of people who are not feeling easy about the opening of the Games,” Hashimoto said. “But we are going to start the Games tomorrow in this difficult situation.”
Earlier this week, composer Keigo Oyamada, whose music was to be used at the festival, was forced to resign due to past bullying from his classmates, which he claimed in magazine interviews. Sections of his music will not be used.
Soon after a video clip and script of Kobayashi’s performance surfaced, social media was flooded with criticism.
“No one, however creative, has the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based human rights group, and director of Global Social Action. .
He also noted that the Nazis handicapped the Germans.
Kobayashi is a former member of the popular comedy duo Rahmen and is known overseas for comedy series including “The Japanese Tradition”.
Japan is going ahead with the Olympics against the advice of most of its medical experts. This is partly due to pressure from the IOC, which is estimated to lose $3 billion to $4 billion in television rights income if the Games were not held.
The official cost of the Olympics is $15.4 billion, but government audits suggest it is much higher. Except $6.7 billion, everything else is public money.
Hashimoto said, “We are preparing for last year to send a positive message. Now at the very end there are many incidents that give a negative image towards Tokyo 2020.”
Tokyo Organizing Committee CEO Toshiro Muto also acknowledged the reputational loss.
“Maybe these negative events affect the positive message we wanted to give to the world,” he said.
Koichi Nakano, who teaches politics at Sofia University, wrote on Twitter that the chaos of the opening ceremony underscores the lack of awareness of diversity in Japan.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she learned of Koyashi’s comments from Hashimoto.
“I was amazed,” she said.
Kobayashi’s Holocaust joke and Oyamada’s resignation were the latest to plague the games. Yoshiro Mori resigned as chairman of the organizing committee over sexist comments. Hiroshi Sasaki also stepped down as creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies after suggesting a Japanese actress dressed as a pig.
Also this week, the chiropractor of the US women’s wrestling team apologized after comparing Olympic COVID-19 protocol to Nazi Germany in a social media post. The team’s chiropractor since 2009, Rosie Gallegos-Maine, will be allowed to end her planned stay at USA Wrestling’s pre-Olympic camp in Nakatsugawa, Japan.
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AP Sports writer Stephen Wade contributed to this report.