The director of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics has been removed, one day before the event is presented.
A video of Kentaro Kobayashi from the 1990s emerged recently in which he apparently makes jokes about the Holocaust.
The head of the Olympics in Japan, Seijo Hashimoto, said the video ridiculed “painful facts of history”.
The recent impeachment adds to a series of scandals that have hit the Olympics.
Tokyo 2020 – postponed last year due to the covid-19 pandemic that continues to threaten to derail the event – had already seen three officials forced to resign from their positions since the beginning of 2021.
Earlier this week, a songwriter resigned from the ceremony’s creative team after it emerged that he had harassed his disabled peers at school.
In March, the creative head of the Olympics, Hiroshi Sasaki, stepped down after suggesting that plus-size comedian Naomi Watanabe could introduce herself as a piglet (making a pun on the word “pig,” which is pig in English. ). He later apologized.
And in February, Yoshiro Mori was forced to resign as head of the organizing committee following comments about women that were labeled “inappropriate.” Mori was quoted as saying that women talked too much and that meeting many women on the board of directors “would take a long time.”
“Indignant out inaceptables”
In this latest scandal, Kobayashi, a once comedian, was severely criticized by a routine that he introduced 23 years ago, in which he and another comedian pretended to be children’s entertainers.
In the routine, Kobayashi addresses his colleague and, referring to some paper dolls, says they are “the ones from last time when you said ‘we’re going to play the Holocaust,’” according to the AFP news agency.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga described the comments as “Enraged the inaceptables”while Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Research in the US declared: “No person, no matter how creative, has the right to make fun of the victims of the Nazi genocide.”
Kobayashi also issued a statement in response to his removal.
“Acts of entertainment shouldn’t make people uncomfortable. I understand my stupid choice of words was wrong and I’m sorry,” he said.
Friday’s ceremony, which Suga says will go ahead as planned, will officially open two weeks of competition.
However, after Kobayashi’s departure, organizers are re-evaluating how to run Friday’s event, which it will only be observed by 950 people in the stadium, to minimize the risk of contagion.
“With the opening ceremony so imminent, we apologize for creating concern for those with ties to the Olympics, the citizens of Tokyo and the Japanese public,” Hashimoto said in a statement.
Scandals have been added to the huge anxiety about the Games. The head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee acknowledged this week that he had not ruled out canceling them, even at this point.
A recent poll found that 555 of people in Japan opposed holding the Games, fearing it would become a super-spreading event, Reuters reported.
Organizers are already dealing with an increase in covid cases among athletes and officials. On Thursday, they reported that 91 people accredited to the Olympics had tested positive for the virus.
An increase in cases among the Japanese population – of which only a third have been vaccinated – also led to an emergency declaration during the Games.
However, the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, congratulated the organizers on Wednesday for having achieved so far “to have done the best they could”, adding that a “zero risk” Games were not possible.
“The mark of success in these next 15 days will not be zero cases,” he declared. “The mark of success will be making sure that all cases are identified, isolated, traced and taken care of as quickly as possible.”
The first sporting events of Tokyo 2020 have already started. In women’s football, Chile lost 0-2 against Great Britain and in men’s football Mexico I wonor to France 4-1.
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