Tokyo 2020: Director of Olympics opening ceremony fired over Holocaust joke one day ahead of event

Kentaro Kobayashi
Kentaro Kobayashi has been dismissed after allegedly making comments such as 'let's play Holocaust'. Credit: AP

The director of the Olympics opening ceremony has been fired over a joke he made about the Holocaust as a comedian in 1998.

The dismissal of Kentaro Kobayashi - who is said to have used the phrase “let’s play Holocaust" - comes just one day before the event is due to take place.

The 48-year-old's departure is the latest in a string of scandals to hit the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Earlier this week, composer Keigo Oyamada, whose music was to be used at the ceremony, was forced to resign because of past bullying of his classmates, which he boasted about in magazine interviews. The segment of his music will not be used.

Soon after a video clip and script of Mr Kobayashi’s performance were revealed, criticism flooded social media.

Earlier in the year, Yoshiro Mori resigned as organising committee president over sexist remarks. 

In a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee, the 83-year-old said: “Women are very competitive. When one of them raises her hand, they probably think they have to say something, too. And then everyone says something.”

While in May, also stepped down as creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies after suggesting a comedian and body positivity advocate could appear as an "Olympig" at the opening ceremony.

Organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto said the body "deeply apologised" for the phrase which "ridiculed a historical tragedy".

“We deeply apologise for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties as well as the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country," she said.

The opening ceremony of the Covid-delayed Games is scheduled for Friday.

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

The ceremony will be held without spectators as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections, although some officials, guests and media will attend.

“We are going to have the opening ceremony tomorrow and, yes, I am sure there are a lot of people who are not feeling easy about the opening of the Games,” Ms Hashimoto said.

“But we are going to open the Games tomorrow under this difficult situation.”

“Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and global social action director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based human rights group.

He also noted that the Nazis gassed Germans with disabilities.

“Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics,” he said.

Former president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee Yoshiro Mori resigned a week after making sexist comments. Credit: AP

Mr Kobayashi is a former member of a popular comedy duo Rahmens and known overseas for comedy series including “The Japanese Tradition.”

Japan is pushing ahead with the Olympics against the advice of most of its medical experts.

This is partially due to pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is estimated to face losses of £2.2 billion and £2.9 billion in television rights income if the Games were not held.

“We have been preparing for the last year to send a positive message,” Ms Hashimoto said.

“Toward the very end now there are so many incidents that give a negative image toward Tokyo 2020.”

Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the Tokyo organising committee, also acknowledged the reputational damage.

“Maybe these negative incidents will impact the positive message we wanted to deliver to the world,” he said.

The last-minute scandals come as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government faces criticism for prioritising the Olympics despite public health concerns amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections.

As well as scandals over comments made by those on the Japan 2020 body, Tokyo has been plagued with issues since being awarded the Games in 2013.

French investigators are looking into alleged bribes paid to IOC members to influence the vote for Tokyo.

The fallout forced the resignation two years ago of Tsunekazu Takeda, who headed the Japanese Olympic Committee and was an IOC member.

Also this week, the chiropractor for the American women’s wrestling team apologised after comparing Olympic Covid protocols Nazi Germany in a social media post.

Rosie Gallegos-Main, the team’s chiropractor since 2009, will be allowed to finish her planned stay at USA Wrestling’s pre-Olympic camp in Nakatsugawa, Japan.