Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have sacked the director of the opening ceremony just a day before the event takes place in the latest blow to the troubles Games.
Kantaro Kobayashi, a 48-year-old comedian, was fired after a skit he performed in 1998 that made light of Nazi genocide resurfaced, including the moment he told his audience: ‘Let’s play Holocaust’.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo’s Olympic committee, said Kobayashi’s entire ceremony is now being ‘reviewed’ just hours before it is due to be performed.
The comedian is just the latest big name to be sacked from the Olympic organising team this week after the opening ceremony composer was fired and a popular children’s author withdrew from a cultural event – both over historic bullying claims.
Meanwhile the number of Covid cases linked to the Games rose to 91 including another athlete – Czech table tennis player Pavel Sirucek – amid fears the already-unpopular competition could turn into a super-spreader event.
Kantaro Kobayashi has been sacked as the Tokyo Games’ opening ceremony show director over Holocaust jokes he made during a comedy skit in 1998
Footage circulating on social media purports to show Kobayashi and a comedy partner brainstorming games to play with children, when he jokes ‘let’s play Holocaust’
In the sketch, Kobayashi and a comedy partner pretend to be a pair of famous children’s TV entertainers.
As they brainstorm an activity involving paper, Kobayashi refers to some paper doll cutouts, describing them as ‘the ones from that time you said “let’s play the Holocaust”‘, sparking laughter from the audience.
The pair then joke about how a television producer was angered by the suggestion of a Holocaust activity.
In a statement, Kobayashi apologised, describing the skit as containing ‘extremely inappropriate’ lines.
‘It was from a time when I was not able to get laughs the way I wanted, and I believe I was trying to grab people’s attention in a shallow-minded way.’
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group based in Los Angeles, said: ‘Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide.
‘Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics.’
Kobayashi, a well-known figure in theatre in Japan, is the latest member of the opening ceremony team to depart in disgrace.
The creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned in March after suggesting a plus-size female comedian appear as a pig – referring to her as an ‘Olympig’.
And on Monday, composer Keigo Oyamada, whose music was expected to be used at the ceremony, was forced to resign because of past bullying of his classmates, which he boasted about in magazine interviews.
A four-minute musical piece he composed was removed from the ceremony, but organisers left it unclear Thursday how Kobayashi’s firing might affect the event.
‘We’re still considering how to hold the opening ceremony tomorrow,’ Hashimoto said. ‘I want to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible.’
Details of the opening ceremony have been kept under wraps, and strict coronavirus rules mean only around 950 people will be in the stands of the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium for the extravaganza.
Tokyo 2020 has been plagued by a series of gaffes and missteps by Olympic officials, including Hashimoto’s predecessor Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after claiming women speak too much in meetings.
Kobayashi’s dismissal comes just 24 hours before the opening ceremony starts in Tokyo
Even before the latest series of firings, the Games were deeply unpopular in Japan with polls consistently showing a majority of Japanese do not want them to go ahead and do not expect to enjoy them.
It comes against the backdrop of rising Covid cases within the country driven by the more-infectious Delta variant which has seen Tokyo put into a state of emergency that bans large gatherings, meaning most events will take place without crowds.
Even with strict Covid rules in place, some 50,000 people are expected to arrive in Tokyo for the event – another sore point after Japan imposed strict border controls to keep the pandemic under control.
Japan has registered 850,000 Covid cases and 15,000 deaths to-date – relatively low figures for such a populous country.
But there are fears the Olympics could accelerate the country’s already-rising case totals because only 20 per cent of the population are vaccinated.
Already there have been 91 Covid cases linked to the Games – including among athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff.
That total only includes those who returned a positive test after arriving in Japan and does not include those diagnosed in their home countries before travelling.
The latest athlete to be hit is Czech table tennis player Pavel Sirucek who will have to withdraw from the competition to complete mandatory 10-day isolation.
“Today, we were informed that Pavel Sirucek has tested positive for COVID-19 and is placed in isolation,” the International Table Tennis Federation said Thursday.
‘Pavel will be marked as Did Not Start in the table tennis competition, in accordance with the Tokyo 2020 Sport-Specific Regulations. We wish him a speedy recovery.’
The 28-year-old is ranked 52nd in the world.
It comes after Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs and Chilean taekwondo fighter Fernanda Aguirre withdrew from the Olympics after being diagnosed Wednesday.