Tokyo 2020 boss quits after suggesting comedian and body positivity activist appear as 'Olympig' during opening ceremony

180321 Hiroshi Sasaki and Naomi Watanabe, AP/Kyodo News
Hiroshi Sasaki suggested Naomi Watanabe could wear pig ears at the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony. Credit: AP/Kyodo News

The creative chief of the Tokyo Games has quit after suggesting a comedian and body positivity advocate could appear as an "Olympig" at the opening ceremony.

Former creative director Hiroshi Sasaki suggested Naomi Watanabe could wear pig ears in a derogatory reference to her body shape.

The comment was made last year via a group chat on messaging app Line. The proposal was immediately rejected by the 66-year-old's colleagues, who told him it was inappropriate.

However, the comments only became public on Wednesday after weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported them.

Mr Sasaki released a statement early on Thursday saying he was stepping down and said he called Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organising committee, and tendered his resignation.

The comments were made about Naomi Watanabe, a well-known Japanese entertainer Credit: Kyodo News via AP

He said: “For Ms Naomi Watanabe, my idea and comments are a big insult. And it is unforgivable.

“I offer my deepest regrets and apologise from the depth of my heart to her, and those who may have been offended by this.”

The news is yet another setback for the postponed games and another involving comments about women.

The Olympics are to open on July 23 and have been dogged by the Covid-19 pandemic, record costs and numerous scandals.

Support for the Games has plummeted within Japan, with various polls suggesting about 80% want the Olympics canceled or postponed again, citing the costs and the risks of holding the mega-event during a pandemic.

In February, the president of the organising committee Yoshiro Mori was forced to resign after making sexist comments, saying women talk too much in meetings.

And two years ago, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee Tsunekazu Takeda was also forced to step down in a bribery scandal connected to vote-buying involving International Olympic Committee members.

Mr Sasaki was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics, which begin in just over four months.

Following the departure of Mr Mori, Seiko Hashimoto was made president of the organising committee.

Since taking over, the 56-year-old has pledged to make gender equality a top priority at the Games, appointing 12 women to the organising committee’s executive board, increasing female membership from 20% to 42%.

Ms Hashimoto has appeared in seven Olympics, competing in speed skating - in which she won a bronze medal in 1992 - and track cycling.