Olympics opening ceremony director fired on eve of event

July 22, 2021: The director of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been fired, with organizers saying after the news came out, that he had made fun of the Holocaust.

Kentaro Kobayashi, who was part of a comedy Act in the 1990s, was fired over comments that mocked the tragedy, Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said in a briefing on Thursday.

The Simon Weissent Center, an international human rights organization, issued an earlier statement condemning Kobayashi’s past behavior.

“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 his behaviour and calling the words “stupid”.

The news is the latest in a series of embarrassments for Tokyo’s organizers that have sparked outrage at home and abroad, and just days after a famous musician had to step down as composer after old reports of his bullying and abuse emerged.

In February, Yoshiro Mori, who once a Japanese prime minister, was forced to leave after making sexist comments. A month later, Hiroshi Sasaki, the creative head of sports, also had to resign after making derogatory remarks about a famous Japanese female entertainer.

Meanwhile, public broadcaster NHK has reported that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided not to attend the event.

The Japanese government had earlier declared a state of emergency and virus-related restrictions in Tokyo in an effort to reduce health risks between 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.

The opening ceremony on Friday, which usually stands as a major exhibition of the host nation, is set to take place, with Japanese media reporting that less than 950 people, including about 15 world leaders, attended.

The first lady of the United States, Jill Biden, is expected to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon for the ceremony, and she is expected to be in attendance with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to also discuss the vaccine situation in Japan.

Only one-third of Japanese have received at least one dose of the vaccine, raising concerns that the Olympics could become a super-spreader.

Dozens of participants have already tested positive for COVID-19, forcing players to withdraw and isolate teammates.

COVID-19 infections have jumped in the capital and are projected to spike further, straining healthcare providers.

In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68 percent of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections, with 55 percent saying they opposed the Games going ahead.

Olympics competition has already begun, with the Japanese women’s softball team getting the hosts off to a winning start on Wednesday, while Sweden beat the US in women’s football.

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