The director of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been dismissed, the organisers have said following news reports that he had previously made jokes about the Holocaust.
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told a briefing on Thursday that Kentaro Kobayashi, who was part of a comedy act in the 1990s, had been dismissed because of comments that made fun of the tragedy.
In a video clip of his 1998 act, Kobayashi was seen joking about a game he called “let’s play massacre the Jews”, prompting laughter in the audience.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organisation, earlier released a statement condemning Kobayashi’s past behaviour.
“Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics,” said Abraham Cooper, a rabbi, associate dean and global social action director of the centre.
Kobayashi himself said he regretted what he called a “stupid choice” of words.
Abe to skip ceremony
Meanwhile, public broadcaster NHK reported that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided against attending the ceremony.
The Japanese government had earlier declared a state of emergency and virus restrictions over Tokyo, in an effort to minimise health risks among residents and visitors.
Abe’s office could not immediately be reached on Thursday, a public holiday in Japan.
Abe, who famously dressed up as the titular plumber from the video game Super Mario at the Rio Games to represent Japan, played an outsized role in attracting the Olympics to Tokyo.
At the time, 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 Fukushima nuclear and natural disaster in 2011.
Instead, the Games, delayed for a year because of the global pandemic, have faced a series of scandals and setbacks.