Tokyo 2020: Hours before opening ceremony, organisers sack director over holocaust joke made 23 years ago

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Kentaro Kobayashi

Story from Kenneth AFOR, Lagos

Kentaro Kobayashi, the director of the Tokyo Olympics’ Opening Ceremony, has been relieved of his duty hours before the event over a joke he made about the Holocaust in a 1998 comedy routine.

The organisers announced this Thursday morning in a statement.

“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 organizing committee stated.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish global human rights organisation based in Los Angeles, condemned Kobayashi’s remarks in a statement released Wednesday.

The centre, citing Japanese news reports, said one of Kobayashi’s jokes included the phrase “let’s play Holocaust.”

“Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the centre’s associate dean and global social action director.

Meanwhile, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said in a news conference that organizers are reviewing the entirety of the program for the opening ceremony in the wake of Kobayashi’s dismissal.

Hashimoto said they became aware of the joke Wednesday morning and regretted that they did not know about it earlier.

“The overall responsibility lies in me. How we’re going to handle the ceremony is currently being discussed,” organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters on Thursday morning.

However, Kobayashi admitted in a statement released by Tokyo 2020 that he remembered making the joke in question in 1998 and regretted it shortly thereafter.

“I understand that my choice of words was wrong, and I regret it, I am sorry,” he wrote in Japanese.

It’s not clear yet how the last-minute departure of director Kentaro Kobayashi is going to affect the ceremony, which is expected to be an elaborate production unfolding over the course of three hours on Friday morning.

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