Thursday, July 22, 2021

Olympics opening ceremony director sacked for Holocaust joke

He joins the list of highly placed men who have put their foot in their mouth and been given the push from the Olympics.

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The director of the Olympics opening ceremony has been dismissed, one day before the event is due to be held.

Footage from the 1990s of Kentaro Kobayashi appearing to make jokes about the Holocaust has recently been discovered.

Japan’s Olympic chief Seiko Hashimoto said the video made light of “painful facts of history”.

The dismissal is the latest in a string of scandals to hit the Tokyo Games. Since the start of the year, three men have been forced to step down.

Earlier this week, a composer quit the team creating the ceremony after it emerged he had verbally bullied classmates with disabilities at school.

In March, Olympics’ creative chief Hiroshi Sasaki quit after suggesting that plus-size comedian Naomi Watanabe could appear as an “Olympig”. He later apologised.

And in February, Yoshiro Mori was forced to step down as the head of the organising committee after he made remarks about women that were labelled “inappropriate”. Mori was quoted as saying women talked too much and that meetings with many female board directors would “take a lot of time”.

This latest scandal has seen former comedian Kobayashi strongly criticised for a sketch he performed 23 years ago, in which he and another comedian played the parts of children’s entertainers.

In the sketch, Kobayashi turns to his colleague, referring to some paper dolls, saying they are “the ones from that time you said ‘Let’s play the Holocaust'”, according to AFP news agency.

“Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, of the US-based Holocaust research body Simon Wiesenthal Center, said.

Kobayashi issued a statement responding to his dismissal, saying: “Entertainment should not make people feel uncomfortable. I understand that my stupid choice of words at that time was wrong, and I regret it.”

Friday’s ceremony will officially kick off two weeks of competition. However, after the removal of Kobayashi, organisers are now reassessing how to hold Friday’s event – which will only be attended by 950 people, in order to minimise Covid-19 risks.

The scandals have done nothing to stop massive unease about the Games, which were postponed from last year due to the pandemic.

The head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee admitted this week that he has still not ruled out cancellation, even at this late stage.

A recent poll found 55% of people in Japan were opposed to holding the Games, amid fears it could become a coronavirus super-spreader event, Reuters news agency reported.

Already, organisers are dealing with rising Covid case numbers among athletes and officials. On Thursday, they said 91 people accredited for the Games have now tested positive for the virus.

An increase in cases among Japan’s population – only of a third of whom have been vaccinated – has also led to a state of emergency being declared for the duration of the Games.

However, Tokyo 2020 is now under way, with the hosts Japan winning their softball match on Wednesday.

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