The Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony creative director has been fired for a joke he made in the late 1990s about the Holocaust, the organizing committee announced Thursday.
The firing came after a video of Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director, circulated and showed him making the joke in a Japanese-language TV show. According to The Wall Street Journal, the skit involved Kobayashi, who was previously part of a performance duo, imagining that they were “creating toy characters for a game about Holocaust victims.”
A copy of the original video that circulated online Wednesday has received 1.3 million views. In the skit, Kobayashi refers to a group of paper doll cutouts as “the ones from that time you said ‘let’s play the Holocaust,'” according to Deutsche Welle.
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“We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” said IOC head Seiko Hashimoto, who herself became president after the previous leader stepped down for making sexist remarks about women in business meetings. “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.”
“We are going to have the opening ceremony tomorrow and, yes, I am sure there are a lot of people who are not feeling easy about the opening of the Games,” said Hashimoto, reports Japan Today. “But we are going to open the Games tomorrow under this difficult situation.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, condemned the remarks about the Holocaust in a statement.
“Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” said Cooper, who also mentioned alleged jokes Kobayashi made about disabled people. “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.”
Kobayashi has apologized for making the Holocaust joke and said it was an honor to participate in Olympics planning.
“Indeed, as pointed out, in the video software that was released in 1998 to introduce young comedians, a skit script I wrote contained an extremely inappropriate expression,” said Kobayashi, reports CNN. He also said, “I understand that my foolish choice of words at the time was a mistake, and I regret it.”
Kobayashi’s firing is the latest distraction from the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed last year amidst the pandemic. Data from the International Olympic Committee shows 75 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last three weeks, including six athletes and 42 Games contractors. Two countries — Guinea and North Korea have pulled out of the Olympics due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Guinea’s vaccination rate is estimated at 3%.