Tokyo Olympics dismiss opening ceremony director for Holocaust joke

Tokyo 2020 fired the director of its opening ceremony a day before it took place after images of him joking about the Holocaust appeared on social media.

The departure of Kentaro Kobayashi, who featured in a comedy issue in 1998, plunged the opening ceremony into further chaos, following the resignation of composer Keigo Oyamada on past remarks about bullying a disabled classmate.

The development forced organizers to consider modifying the opening ceremony with just a few hours to rehearse after cutting four minutes of Oyamada’s music from the program earlier this week. The dismissal also marked still an embarrassment for Japan as they stumble towards the start of the Games on Friday.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo 2020, said Kobayashi “made fun of the tragic story” and the committee sacked him before the remarks became a diplomatic problem.

A person close to the opening ceremony said the technical and full rehearsals were over and it would be next to impossible to make any further changes. “All the people, the music and the lights are coordinated down to the second and changing anything now would create too much chaos,” the person said.

The sacking came as the Japanese public broadcaster NHK announced that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would not attend the opening ceremony. Abe was in the center in the Tokyo campaign to host the 2020 Games, appearing at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro in disguise 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 Olympics organizers not to have spectators in stadiums and Tokyo’s state of emergency for Covid.

Kentaro Kobayashi © AP

Kobayashi, 48, was part of a comedy duo called Rahmens in the 1990s and 2000s. In the clip that surfaced online, the couple make a joke that uses a reference to Holocaust victims to set up a punchline.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group based in the United States, condemned the joke: “Anyone, no matter how creative, has no right to make fun of the victims of the Nazi genocide.

In a statement released by the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, Kobayashi said the incident occurred at a time when he was making superficial jokes that he had since reconsidered. “My job is to entertain people and make people feel rude is not acceptable,” he said. “I understand and regret that my foolish choice of words at the time was bad.”

Japanese television has historically relied on “stables” of comedians to complete the castings for variety shows. Their jokes receive little attention in Japan, but would often be deemed offensive by modern audiences in Europe or the United States – worlds now brought together by the Olympics.

Kobayashi is the second Olympic Games Creative Director to step down following Hiroshi Sasaki’s resignation in March following reports that he proposed that a plus-size actress appear at the opening ceremony as ” Olympig “.

Oyamada, the musician, resigned after the reappearance of remarks he made in magazine interviews in the 1990s, in which he bragged about harassing his disabled classmates when he was in school. ‘school.

The latest opening ceremony scandal came as organizers reported 12 more positive tests for Covid-19, bringing the total to 91. Positive tests included two athletes and two other residents of the Olympic Village.

Tokyo 2020 said the rate of positive tests among people traveling to Japan was extremely weak. “That’s 20 out of 32,000 – a positive rate of 0.06 percent,” said chief of operations Hidemasa Nakamura. He said the usual rate for airport testing was 0.4%, showing visitors were following the rules.

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