Tokyo Olympics sack director of opening ceremony over Holocaust mockery


Tokyo 2020 fired the director of her inauguration ceremony a day before she made after a post on social media a film of him joking about the Holocaust.

The departure of Kentaro Kobayashi, who made the reference during a 1998 routine comedy, launched the opening ceremony into another chaos, following the resignation of composer Keigo Oyamada on past remarks about the intimidation of a disabled schoolmate.

The development has left organizers forced to contemplate changing the opening ceremony with a few hours left to repeat after cutting four minutes of Oyamada’s music from the program earlier this week. The sacking also marked it yet another embarrassment for Japan as they head toward the start of the Friday Games.

Seiko Hashimoto, chairman of Tokyo 2020, said Kobayashi had “made fun of the tragic story” and that the committee had dismissed it before the remarks could become a diplomatic issue.

A person close to the opening ceremony said that the technical and complete tests were complete and that it would be almost impossible to make further changes. “All the people, music and lights are coordinated up to the second and changing something now would create too much chaos,” the person said.

The dismissal was made when Japanese public broadcaster NHK said former prime minister Shinzo Abe would not attend the opening ceremony. Abe was central to the Tokyo campaign to host the 2020 Games, appearing at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro dressed as Super Mario.

Abe’s office was closed for a national holiday and he could not be reached for comment. But NHK said its decision not to participate was in light of a decision by the Olympics organizers not to have spectators in the stadiums and the state of emergency in Tokyo for Covid.

Kentaro Kobayashi © AP

Kobayashi, 48, was part of a comedy duo called Rahmens in the 1990s and 2000s. In the clip that airs online, the couple makes a joke that used a reference to Holocaust victims to establish a punchline.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a U.S.-based Jewish human rights group, condemned the joke: “Any person, however creative, has the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide.”

In a statement released through the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, Kobayashi said the incident happened at a time when he was making deep jokes that he had been rethinking ever since. “My job is to entertain people and make people feel unpleasant is not acceptable,” he said. “I understand and I’m sorry that my stupid choice of words at the time was wrong.”

Japanese television has historically relied on the “stalls” of comedians to fill the cast of various shows. His jokes attracted little attention in Japan but would often be considered offensive by the modern public in Europe or the United States – worlds now reunited by the Olympics.

Kobayashi is the second creative director of the Olympics to resign after Hiroshi Sasaki left in March following reports that he had proposed that a larger comedian should appear at the opening ceremony as “Olympig.”

Oyamada, the musician, quit following statements he made in interviews with the magazine in the 1990s, in which he boasted of intimidating his disabled schoolmates when he was at school.

The latest scandal over the opening ceremony came when organizers reported 12 more positive texts for Covid-19, taking the total to 91. Positive tests included two athletes and two other residents in the Olympic Village.

Tokyo 2020 said the percentage of positive tests among those traveling to Japan it was extremely low. “It’s 20 out of 32,000 – a 0.06 percent positive percentage,” said head of operations Hidemasa Nakamura. He said the usual rate at airport tests was 0.4 per cent, showing visitors were following the rules.

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