Tokyo Olympics: Opening ceremony director sacked over 1998 Holocaust joke

By Sports Desk July 22, 2021

Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi has been sacked after footage of him making light of the Holocaust emerged.

On the eve of the Games being formally opened in Japan's capital, the man behind the ceremony admitted he had made comments in 1998 that were "trying to get people's attention shallowly because I couldn't make people laugh as I expected".

Kobayashi was a comedian at the time and his comments came in a skit.

He said on Thursday, according to the Yomiuri newspaper: "I understand that my stupid choice of words at that time was wrong, and I regret it. I apologise to those who feel uncomfortable. I am sorry."

The International Olympic Committee confirmed his dismissal, stating: "Tokyo 2020 Olympic opening ceremony creative team member Kentaro Kobayashi was dismissed from his post after a joke he had made in the past about a painful historical event was brought to light. Following this, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee relieved Mr Kobayashi of his role as a member of the team.

"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."

The Nazi-led Holocaust saw around six million Jews murdered during the Second World War.

His dismissal raises questions about how the ceremony will now go ahead. It was already set to proceed in front of a near-empty stadium, with fans being barred from attending Olympic events in Tokyo due to COVID-19 concerns.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organising committee, told a news conference:  "How we're going to handle the ceremony is currently being discussed."

Asked whether the resignation could overshadow the Olympics, Hashimoto said: "Because of COVID, society united. How are we going to bring solidarity to society? We have to review the message to deliver to the world.

"Yes, we are facing a lot of challenges right now. Maybe that's the reason why these negative incidents will impact the messages we want to deliver to the world. The value of Tokyo 2020 is still exciting and we want to send our messages to the world."

Speaking before the damaging footage emerged, IOC president Thomas Bach said the opening ceremony would be "a moment of joy and relief, joy in particular for the athletes".

He said the relief would come "because the road to this opening ceremony was not the easiest one".

Bach added: "There is a saying that if you feel this kind of relief, there are stones falling from your heart, so if you hear some stones falling then maybe they are coming from my heart."

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