Opening ceremony director fired on eve of Tokyo Olympics over Holocaust joke

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics Preview – Tokyo, Japan – July 20, 2021 General view of the Olympic rings outside the National Stadium, the main venue of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (REUTERS)

TOKYO — Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have fired the director of the opening ceremony on the eve of the event after reports surfaced of a past joke he made about the Holocaust, as media said former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a strong supporter of the Games, would not attend. .

The latest in a series of embarrassments for Tokyo organizers comes just days after a well-known musician was forced to step down as composer for the ceremony after old reports of his bullying and abusive behavior surfaced.

Earlier this year, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee head resigned after making sexist comments, and the Tokyo Olympics creative head followed suit after making disparaging comments about a popular Japanese female entertainer.

Tokyo Games organizers fired Kentaro Kobayashi on Thursday over a joke he made about the Holocaust as part of a 1990s comedy act that recently resurfaced in domestic media.

The head of the organizing committee, Seiko Hashimoto, apologized for the “trouble and worries” caused “when the opening ceremony is almost upon us”.

Earlier, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization, released a statement saying that Kobayashi’s association with the Olympics “would offend the memory” of the 6 million Jewish people who died in the Holocaust.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the show director’s comments were “outrageous and unacceptable”, but the opening ceremony should go ahead as planned.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said US President Joe Biden supported the decision to fire Kobayashi and disagreed with his “offensive” comments. Psaki said the president’s wife, Jill Biden, still plans to attend the opening ceremony.

In a statement, Kobayashi apologized for his earlier comments.


Former Prime Minister Abe, who famously dressed as the titular video game Super Mario plumber during the Rio Games to represent Japan, played an outrageous role in attracting the Olympics to Tokyo.

At the time of the bid, Abe and his supporters hoped the Olympics would parallel the 1964 Games in Tokyo, ushering in the country’s resurgence after decades of economic stagnation and also marking the recovery from a massive earthquake and nuclear attack. disaster in 2011.

But the spectacle of last-minute staff changes, the resurgence of old insulting remarks and the looming presence of the coronavirus pandemic threatened to turn it into a “PR disaster,” said Bob Pickard, a senior PR manager at Signal Leadership Communication.

“Tokyo 2020 was to be a global platform for the launch of a new Japan that confidently faces an international future. Instead, what we see here is the legacy of ancient Japan’s insularity, entangled in prejudices and outdated stereotypes of the past,” he said.

Friday’s opening ceremony will be an understated, with just 950 people – including only about 15 world leaders – who will be in attendance. Spectators have been banned from most Olympic events as the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise.

On Thursday, Tokyo reported 1,979 new cases of coronavirus in the capital, the highest since January 15.

Jill Biden arrived in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon for the opening ceremony of the Games, raising hopes that she could also use her presence to discuss vaccines with Suga.

The first lady, who will be dining with Suga and his wife later in the day, has traveled across the United States urging more people to get vaccinated.

Only a third of Japanese people have had at least one dose of the vaccine, raising public concern that the Olympics could become a super-dissemination event.

“Things like this keep happening, Tokyo residents are really sick of it,” 64-year-old retiree Shio Watanabe said on Thursday after news of further staff changes.

In a recent poll, 68% of respondents expressed doubts about the ability of Olympic organizers to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they were against the Games going ahead.

Already 87 Olympic personnel, including athletes, have tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the US gymnastics team to move to a hotel.

During a visit to the Japanese emperor on Thursday, Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee, tried to allay concerns about the virus, reiterating that organizers were doing their utmost not to bring infections to Japan.

The Olympic competition has already started, with the Japan women’s softball team hosting the off to a winning start on Wednesday.

Between games in rural Fukushima, an area devastated by the 2011 disaster, softball players searched for a brown bear spotted this week.

“I’m a little disappointed not to have seen it,” American pitcher Monica Abbott, who has played in Japan’s national league since 2009, told a news conference.


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