TOKYO (AP) – The Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee fired the director of the opening ceremony on Thursday because of a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy show in 1998.
Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto said the day before the opening ceremony that Director Kentaro Kobayashi had been sacked. He was accused of using a joke about the Holocaust in his comedy, including the phrase “Let’s play the Holocaust”.
“We found that Mr. Kobayashi used a phrase in his own performance that ridiculed historical tragedy,” said Hashimoto. “We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and causing problems and concerns for many stakeholders as well as the people of Tokyo and the rest of the country.”
Tokyo has been plagued by scandals since the 2013 Games were awarded. French investigators are investigating alleged bribes given to members of the International Olympic Committee to influence the Tokyo vote. The consequences forced Tsunekazu Takeda, chairman of the Japanese Olympic Committee and IOC member, to resign two years ago.
The opening ceremony of the pandemic delayed games is scheduled for Friday. The ceremony will be held without an audience to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections, although some officials, guests and media will be in attendance.
“We’re going to have the opening ceremony tomorrow and yes, I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t feel easy about the opening of the games,” said Hashimoto. “But we will open the games tomorrow in this difficult situation.”
Earlier this week, composer Keigo Oyamada, whose music was to be used at the ceremony, was forced to resign for bullying his classmates, whom he bragged about in magazine interviews. The excerpt from his music is not used.
Shortly after a video clip and script of Kobayashi’s performance was revealed, criticism flooded social media.
“Everyone, no matter how creative they are, has no right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, deputy dean and director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based human rights group.
He also noted that the Nazis gassed Germans with disabilities.
“Any association of this person with the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and cruelly mock the Paralympics,” he said.
Kobayashi is a former member of the popular comedy duo Frame and is known abroad for comedy series such as “The Japanese Tradition”.
Japan is pushing the Olympics forward against the advice of most of its medical experts. This is partly due to pressure from the IOC that it is estimated that if the Games are not played, there will be losses of $ 3-4 billion in television rights revenue.
“We prepared for the past year to send a positive message,” said Hashimoto. “Towards the end now there are so many incidents that convey a negative image of Tokyo 2020.”
Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the Tokyo Organizing Committee, also admitted the reputational damage.
“Perhaps these negative incidents are affecting the positive message we wanted to convey to the world,” he said.
The last minute scandals come as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government comes under fire for prioritizing the Olympics despite public health concerns over a resurgence of coronavirus infections.
Kobayashi’s Holocaust joke and Oyamada’s resignation were the last to hit the Games. Yoshiro Mori has resigned as President of the Organizing Committee because of sexist statements. Hiroshi Sasaki also stepped down as creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies after suggesting that a Japanese actress dress up as a pig.
Also this week, the American wrestling team’s chiropractor apologized after comparing the COVID-19 Olympic protocols with Nazi Germany in a social media post. Rosie Gallegos-Main, who has been the team’s chiropractor since 2009, is allowed to end her planned stay at the USA Wrestling Pre-Olympic Camp in Nakatsugawa, Japan.
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AP Sports Writer Stephen Wade contributed to this report.