Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony director fired over Holocaust joke

·4-min read
Kentaro Kobayashi has been fired on the eve of the event - ©Tokyo 2020
Kentaro Kobayashi has been fired on the eve of the event - ©Tokyo 2020

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games has been plunged into turmoil after the show director was fired over a joke he made about the Holocaust.

Kentaro Kobayashi, who was partly in charge of the curtain-raiser, was dismissed after facing anti-Semitism allegations over a comment he made in a comedy act in 1998 resurfaced.

According to multiple Japanese newspaper reports, Kobayashi made light of the mass murder of six million Jews by saying: "Let's play Holocaust."

The troubled opening ceremony was already facing the headache of replacing a composer after Japanese musician Keigo Oyamada stepped down after historic reports of alleged bullying and abusive behaviour.

Toshiro Muto, the Tokyo 2020 chief executive, later confirmed that organisers would "review the entire programme" of the opening ceremony following Kobayashi's dismissal.

The crisis-hit organisation, in a tailspin with just 24 hours left until the multi-million pound ceremony, also offered "our deepest apologies" over the embarrassment caused to those involved in the Games.

"In the short time remaining before the opening ceremony, we offer our deepest apologies for any offence and anguish this matter may have caused to the many people involved in the Olympic Games, as well as to the citizens of Japan and the world," a statement from Tokyo 2020 said.

Seiko Hashimoto, the organising committee president, said she accepted responsibility for organisers' failure to properly vet those working on the ceremony.

"As soon as possible we decided we will have to address the issue and we decided on the dismissal," she added.
Hashimoto took responsibility for a situation she said she "deeply regrets". "The overall responsibility lies in me," she added. The ceremony would be "sombre".

A historically low attendance is predicted on Friday, with spectators banned from attending and hundreds of athletes declining invites to show up on Friday due to the perceived Covid risk.

Only 30 of the 375 Team GB athletes will be present, with many nations fielding reduced numbers due to the potential risk.

Local media reported that former prime minister Shinzo Abe, one of biggest initial advocates for bringing the Games to Tokyo, was also planning to skip the showpiece event amid a mounting Japanese backlash.

Prior to his dismissal, show director Kobayashi had come under attack by international Jewish human rights organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"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," said Abraham Cooper, a rabbi and associate dean and the global social action director of the centre.

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, welcomed the decision to sack the show's director. "The Nazis attempted to eliminate the Jews of Europe by any means necessary, by gas, by bullets and by starvation – it is no laughing matter," she said.

On Thursday, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee confirmed Kobayashi was dismissed over the joke. 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," the statemet said.

The setback comes months after Yoshiro Mori, the former head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, resigned after making sexist remarks.

Yoshiro Mori announces his resignation in February - Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP via Getty Images
Yoshiro Mori announces his resignation in February - Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP via Getty Images

That was soon followed by the resignation of Hiroshi Sasaki, the Tokyo Olympics creative head, after he made derogatory comments about a popular Japanese female entertainer.

In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68 per cent of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control Covid infections, with 55 per cent saying they opposed the Games going ahead.

As well as dealing with heightened anxiety around infections in Japan, organisers have been treading a fine line politically in recent days.

Team GB's women's footballers were given permission to take the knee pre-match against the wishes of the International Olympic Committee.

There were reports that official channels had been banned from publishing images of the gesture, but Olympic social media channels on Thursday published pictures of Lucy Bronze taking the knee.

Taking the knee on the podium remains sacrosanct, but there is a growing expectation the International Olympic Committee's resolve on its Section 50 rule will be tested over the next fortnight.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting