By Gideon Adonai
On the eve of the Tokyo Olympic Games, organisers have fired the director of the opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, over a joke he made about the Holocaust, while media reported former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a staunch advocate for the Tokyo Games, would skip the showpiece event.
The latest is an embarrassment for Tokyo organisers that have sparked outrage and comes just days after a well known musician was forced to step from the ceremony after old reports of his bullying and abusive behaviour surfaced.
Earlier this year, the head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee resigned after making sexist remarks and Tokyo Olympics creative head followed after he made derogatory comments about a popular Japanese female entertainer.
Tokyo Games organisers fired Kobayashi on Thursday over a joke he made about the Holocaust as part of his comedy act in the 1990s that recently resurfaced in domestic media.
“I offer my deep apology for causing trouble and worry for many people concerned as well as Tokyo residents and Japanese people when the opening ceremony is almost upon us,” said a sombre Seiko Hashimoto, who heads the organising committee.
Earlier, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organisation, released a statement saying Kobayashi’s association with the Olympics would “insult the memory” of the six million Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust.
Kobayashi apologised for his past comments in a statement.
According to Reuters, Former PM Abe, who famously dressed up as the titular plumber from video game, Super Mario, at the Rio Games to represent Japan, played an outsized role in attracting the Olympics to Tokyo.
At the time of the bid, Abe and his supporters hoped the Olympics would parallel the 1964 Tokyo Games heralding the nation’s revival after decades of economic stagnation and also mark its recovery from a devastating disaster in 2011.
But the spectacle of last-minute personnel changes, the resurfacing of past abusive comments and the looming presence of the pandemic threatened to turn it into a “PR disaster,” said Bob Pickard, a veteran PR executive at Signal Leadership Communication.
“Tokyo 2020 was supposed to be a global platform for the launch of a new Japan facing an international future with confidence. Instead, what we see here is the legacy of the old Japan’s insular attitudes mired in past prejudices and dated stereotypes,” he said.