TOKYO – The director of the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics was fired Thursday for a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy show in 1998.
Kentaro Kobayashi was ousted just a day before the pandemic-delayed Games officially kicked off on Friday with an elaborate ceremony he helped create, the latest in a long list of setbacks to hit the event.
Kobayashi was fired “after a joke he made in the past about a painful historical event came to light,” the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said in a statement.
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Kobayashi used the phrase “Let’s play the Holocaust” in the act, organizing committee chairman Seiko Hashimoto said in a statement.
“We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, used a phrase that ridiculed a historical tragedy,” Hashimoto said.
“We deeply apologize for causing such a development on the eve of the opening ceremony and for causing problems and concerns to many parties involved as well as to the people of Tokyo and the rest of the country.”
Kobayashi said on Thursday that he regretted the incident.
“Entertainment shouldn’t make people uncomfortable. I understand that my stupid choice of words at the time was wrong, and I regret it,” he said in a statement.
Kobayashi, 48, is a former member of a comedy duo called “Rahmens” and his attempt at Holocaust humor was immediately condemned by Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. surfaced on twitter.
Kobayashi is shown cutting out paper figures of human beings while talking about a “game of killing the Jewish people” in the skit.
It was not immediately clear who uploaded the footage first.
“Anyone, no matter how creative, has no right to make fun of the victims of the Nazi genocide,” said group rabbi Abraham Cooper, who said the Nazis also sent disabled Germans to the rooms. gas.
“Any association of this person with the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a mockery of the Paralympic Games,” he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has come under fire for the decision to host the Games amid the pandemic, told reporters on Thursday that “this incident is utterly outrageous and utterly unacceptable.”
Kobayashi helped organize an opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium that will begin at 7 a.m. ET on Friday without fans in the stands due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the current state of emergency in Tokyo.
While the stadium can accommodate 68,000 people, there will be less than a thousand officials on hand to cheer on athletes from over 200 countries. Dignitaries will include the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, who heads the US delegation, and Japanese Emperor Naruhito.
Kobayashi’s ouster came just days after another key member of the creative group that hosted the opening ceremony, musician Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada, was fired after he bragged about having bullied classmates with disabilities online.
Oyamada apologized and he and his music were taken off the program.
The Olympics have also been plagued by several other scandals over the past year.
In February, the committee chairman, Yoshiro Mori, was kicked out after he said women in charge of the sport talked too much at meetings. A month later, the original Games Creative Director Hiroshi Sasaki was ousted for comparing Japanese celebrity Naomi Watanabe to a pig.
The pandemic derailed the Olympics last year and as Friday’s official kick-off approached, Tokyo 2020 organizers had to deal with a worrying increase in new Covid-19 cases and the opposition from the Japanese public, the majority of whom fear the influx of athletes and others from abroad could turn the Games into a major event.
Even before Kobayashi’s departure was announced on Friday, the national newspaper Asahi Shimbun lambasted the committee, writing that it had been “hampered by a series of missteps.”
“The ‘Festival of Peace’ is going to open amid this pathetic mess that no one even imagined possible,” the newspaper wrote, referring to one of the themes of the opening ceremony.
Olympics officials acknowledged the problems but said they remained committed to moving forward.
“We’re going to have the Opening Ceremony tomorrow and, yes, I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable with the opening of the Games,” Hashimoto said.
“But we will open the Games tomorrow in this difficult situation.”
Eiko Yahashi and Arata yamamoto contributed.