Tokyo Olympics organizers fired the opening ceremony director just a day before the event in the final blow to the troubled Games.
Kantaro Kobayashi, a 48-year-old comedian, was fired after a skit he performed in 1998 that brought Nazi genocide back to the surface, including when he told his audience, “Let’s play Holocaust.”
Tokyo Olympic Committee chairman Seiko Hashimoto said Kobayashi’s entire ceremony is now being “watched” just hours before it is due to take place.
The comedian is just the latest big name to be fired from the Olympic organizing team this week after the opening ceremony composer was fired and a popular children’s author withdrew from a cultural event — both over historic allegations of bullying.
Meanwhile, the number of Covid cases linked to the Games rose to 91, including another athlete – Czech table tennis player Pavel Sirucek – amid fears that the already unpopular competition could grow into a super-spreading event.
Kantaro Kobayashi has been fired as director of the Tokyo Games opening ceremony for Holocaust jokes he made during a comedy skit in 1998
Footage circulating on social media shows Kobayashi and a comedic partner brainstorming games to play with kids, when he jokes ‘let’s play Holocaust’
In the sketch, Kobayashi and a comedic partner pose as a pair of famous children’s TV entertainers.
While brainstorming an activity that involves paper, Kobayashi refers to some cutouts of paper dolls, which he describes as “the ones from that era you said ‘let’s play the holocaust’,” which made the audience laugh.
The pair then joked about how a television producer was angered by the suggestion of a Holocaust activity.
In a statement, Kobayashi apologized, describing the skit as “extremely inappropriate” lines.
“It was from a time when I couldn’t laugh the way I wanted, and I think I was trying to get people’s attention in a superficial way.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization based in Los Angeles, said: “Everyone, no matter how creative they are, has no right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide.
“Any association of this person with the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympic Games.”
Kobayashi, a well-known figure in theater in Japan, is the last member of the opening ceremony team to leave in disgrace.
The creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned in March after suggesting that a plus-sized female comedian would look like a pig and calling her an “Olympig.”
And on Monday, composer Keigo Oyamada, whose music was expected to be used during the ceremony, was forced to resign due to past bullying from his classmates, which he bragged about in magazine interviews.
A four-minute piece of music he composed was removed from the ceremony, but organizers left unclear on Thursday how Kobayashi’s resignation could affect the event.
“We’re still considering how to hold the opening ceremony tomorrow,” Hashimoto said. “I want to come to a conclusion as soon as possible.”
Details of the opening ceremony have been kept secret, and strict coronavirus rules mean only about 950 people will be in the stands of the Olympic Stadium’s 68,000 capacity for the extravaganza.
Tokyo 2020 was plagued by a series of blunders and missteps by Olympic officials, including Hashimoto’s predecessor Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after alleging women speak too much in meetings.
Kobayashi’s resignation comes just 24 hours before opening ceremony in Tokyo begins
Even before the latest set of layoffs, the Games were highly unpopular in Japan, with polls consistently showing that a majority of Japanese do not want them to continue and do not expect them to enjoy them.
It comes against the backdrop of rising Covid cases in the country, driven by the more contagious Delta variant, which has put Tokyo in a state of emergency banning large gatherings, meaning most events will take place without crowds.
Even with strict Covid rules, some 50,000 people are expected to arrive in Tokyo for the event — another pain point after Japan imposed strict border controls to contain the pandemic.
Japan has so far recorded 850,000 Covid cases and 15,000 deaths – relatively low numbers for such a densely populated country.
But fears are that the Olympics could accelerate the country’s already rising number of cases, as only 20 percent of the population is vaccinated.
91 Covid cases have already been linked to the Games – including among athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff.
That total includes only those who returned a positive test after arriving in Japan and not those diagnosed in their home country before traveling.
The last athlete to be hit is Czech table tennis player Pavel Sirucek, who will have to withdraw from competition to complete the mandatory 10-day isolation.
“Today we learned that Pavel Sirucek has tested positive for COVID-19 and has been placed in isolation,” the International Table Tennis Federation said on Thursday.
Pavel will be marked as not started 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 52nd in the world rankings.
It comes after Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs and Chilean taekwondo fighter Fernanda Aguirre withdrew from the Olympics after being diagnosed on Wednesday.