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Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony Director Abruptly Fired for 1998 Joke About the Holocaust

Just one day before the Opening Ceremony of the COVID-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the director of that ceremony has been fired for a Holocaust comment he made 23 years ago.

Kentaro Kobayashi, who was the ceremony’s director, was dismissed after a joke from one of his comedy acts in 1998 included the Holocaust, including this phrase: “Let’s play Holocaust.”

Organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said the organizing committee “deeply apologized” for it.

“We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Hashimoto said. “We deeply apologize 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.”

The Tokyo 2020 logo is shown on a ball during a table tennis training session at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Tokyo on July 22, 2021, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

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

Earlier this week, 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. The segment of his music will not be used.

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

“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 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics,” he said.

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

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

Kobayashi’s Holocaust joke and Oyamada’s resignation were the latest to plague the Games. Yoshiro Mori resigned as organizing committee president over sexist remarks. Hiroshi Sasaki also stepped down as creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies after suggesting a Japanese actress should dress as a pig.

Also this week, the chiropractor for the American women’s wrestling team apologized after comparing Olympic COVID-19 protocols to Nazi German y in a social media post. Rosie Gallegos-Main, a chiropractor for women’s wrestling since 2009, will be allowed to finish her planned stay at USA Wrestling’s pre-Olympic camp in Nakatsugawa, Japan.