Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have sacked the director of the opening ceremony just a day before the event takes place in the latest blow to the troubled Games.
Kantaro Kobayashi, a 48-year-old comedian, was fired after a skit he performed in 1998 that made light of Nazi genocide resurfaced, including the moment he told his audience: ‘Let’s play Holocaust’.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo’s Olympic committee, said Kobayashi’s entire ceremony is now being ‘reviewed’ just hours before it is due to be performed, adding: ‘We’re still considering how to hold the opening ceremony tomorrow’.
However a spokesman for the Games later confirmed the ceremony would go ahead as planned with no amendments.
The comedian is just the latest big name to be sacked from the Olympic organising team this week after the opening ceremony composer was fired and a popular children’s author withdrew from a cultural event – both over historic bullying claims.
Meanwhile the number of Covid cases linked to the Games rose to 91 including more Czech and Dutch athletes amid fears the already-unpopular competition could turn into a super-spreader event.
Footage circulating on social media purports to show Kobayashi and a comedy partner in a 1998 TV skit brainstorming games to play with children, when he jokes ‘let’s play Holocaust’
Kobayashi was sacked from his position as director of the opening ceremony just hours before the show is due to go on, with organisers saying they will now ‘review’ the entire performance
Table tennis player Pavel Sirucek and beach volleyball player Marketa Nausch-Slukova were the Czechs to test positive, as the country’s Olympic committee launched an investigation into the flight that brought the team from Prague.
Meanwhile Dutch taekwondo athlete Reshmie Oogink also tested positive, after skateboarder Candy Jacobs became a confirmed Covid case on Tuesday.
Sirucek and Oogink have now been ruled out of the games as they will miss their qualifying events while in isolation. The news is particularly heartbreaking for Oognik who recovered from injury to make the Olympics, and will likely not compete again.
In the unearthed sketch of Kobayashi, her performs alongside a comedy partner while pretending to be children’s entertainers.
As they brainstorm an activity involving paper, Kobayashi refers to some paper doll cutouts, describing them as ‘the ones from that time you said ‘let’s play the Holocaust”, sparking laughter from the audience.
The pair then joke about how a television producer was angered by the suggestion of a Holocaust-themed activity.
In a statement, Kobayashi apologised, describing the skit as containing ‘extremely inappropriate’ lines.
‘It was from a time when I was not able to get laughs the way I wanted, and I believe I was trying to grab people’s attention in a shallow-minded way.’
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group based in Los Angeles, said: ‘Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide.
‘Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics.’
Hashimoto said she accepted full responsibility for hiring Kobayashi, adding that vetting should have been more thorough.
Keigo Oyamada, an opening ceremony composer, was sacked earlier this week over historic bullying claims
In a frank acknowledgement, she said there will be people who no longer want to watch the scandal-hit opening ceremony.
But, she added, she has no intention of stepping down and wants the event to go ahead.
In a nod to the controversy the Games has courted, officials said Thursday that the opening ceremony has been adapted to include a segment paying tribute to all those suffering from or who have died of Covid in the last year.
An Olympic source told MailOnline: ‘There has been massive criticism of the games going ahead, particularly as spectators have been banned.
‘The Olympics knows it cannot ignore the opposition or the fact that many of the nations are struggling with the virus back in their homelands.
‘The opening ceremony will have a segment that will state that sport can help the world to overcome adversity.
‘This was part of the rehearsal which was conducted on Wednesday.
‘It will focus on togetherness and how the youth of the world can help ease the catastrophic situation and give hope.’
Kobayashi, a well-known figure in theatre in Japan, is the latest member of the opening ceremony team to depart in disgrace.
The creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned in March after suggesting a plus-size female comedian appear as a pig – referring to her as an ‘Olympig’.
And on Monday, composer Keigo Oyamada, whose music was expected to be used at the ceremony, was forced to resign because of past bullying of his classmates, which he boasted about in magazine interviews.
A four-minute musical piece he composed was removed from the ceremony, but organisers left it unclear Thursday how Kobayashi’s firing might affect the event.
‘We’re still considering how to hold the opening ceremony tomorrow,’ Hashimoto said. ‘I want to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible.’
Details of the opening ceremony have been kept under wraps, and strict coronavirus rules mean only around 950 people will be in the stands of the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium for the extravaganza.
That includes just 15 world leaders – down from some 40 in Rio in 2016 – with even Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister who was instrumental in getting the Games brought to the country, set to skip it.
In one piece of good news for Tokyo, US First Lady Jill Biden arrived in Tokyo on Thursday for the Games, marking the highest-profile individual to arrive so far.
Biden is set to dine with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife and it is hoped may discuss getting crucial Covid vaccine supplies to Japan to boost its stuttering roll-out.
Tokyo 2020 has been plagued by a series of gaffes and missteps by Olympic officials, including Hashimoto’s predecessor Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after claiming women speak too much in meetings.
Even before the latest series of firings, the Games were deeply unpopular in Japan with polls consistently showing a majority of Japanese do not want them to go ahead and do not expect to enjoy them.
The troubled Tokyo Olympics is due to kick off in just 24 hours but has been plagued by issues including rising Covid cases, with 91 now linked to the event
The Games are being held against the backdrop of rapidly rising cases in Japan (pictured) with Tokyo itself reporting a record daily case total on Wednesday
Scandal-by-scandal, how FIVE officials and artists linked to the Tokyo Olympics have been sacked
Japan thought it had the Olympics in the bag: By mid-2019, most of the venues had been finished on or ahead of time and the country was being hailed as the best-prepared host ever.
Now, after a year of delays due to the pandemic, the ‘best prepared’ country is stumbling from crisis to crisis: Forced to shut out crowds due to Covid with cases rising among athletes, and scandal after scandal hitting organisers.
No fewer than five officials and artists linked with the Games have now been forced to resign – three of them in the last three days.
Scandal-by-scandal, MailOnline looks back at who has been sacked so far:
Yoshiro Mori, organising chief, fired Feb 22
Mori, now 84, is a former Prime Minister of Japan and was appointed head of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee in 2014 at the age of 76.
At the time he dubbed organising the Games ‘my one last service to the country’, joking that he would barely live to see the event staged.
Even before his time as Olympic organiser, Mori was known for gaffes and undiplomatic comments – with Japanese media once describing him as having ‘the heart of a flea and the brain of a shark’.
True to form, in February this year Mr Mori quipped during an online meeting that women should have time limits placed on them during summits because ‘they talk too much’.
Amid public outcry Mr Mori initially refused to quit though did apologise, before finally leaving his post a week later after petitions to oust him garnered widespread support
Hiroshi Sasaki, artistic director, quit Mar 18
A 66-year-old advertising executive, Sasaki was initially hired to oversee the Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies but added artistic director of the main Games to his CV after the event was pushed back to 2021 due to Covid.
Sasaki had been responsible for the torch handover ceremony between Brazil and Japan at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, which saw then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appear dressed as Super Mario.
While discussing his changes to the opening ceremony with staff, he suggested lowering a plus-sized Japanese music artist into the stadium dressed as a pig – dubbing her an ‘Olympig’.
The comments were made in 2020 but only became public in March this year, prompting a speedy resignation from Sasaki.
Keigo Oyamada, composer, fired Jul 19
Better known by his musical alias Cornelius, 52-year-old rock musician Oyamada had been announced as a composer for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony on July 14.
Oyamada had composed a four-minute piece that would feature during the ceremony, organisers said, centered around the concept of ‘celebrating differences, empathizing, and living side by side with compassion.’
The announcement triggered an immediate backlash, as people reposed magazine interviews Oyamada had given in the 1990s where he appeared to brag about bullying disabled and minority ethnic classmates.
Incidents he described included forcing a boy with Down Syndrome to eat faeces and forcing another to masturbate in front of classmates.
Oyamada issued an online apology on July 15, before announcing he had quit on July 19.
Nobumi, children’s author, quit Jul 21
A popular children’s author in Japan, Nobumi was scheduled to appear at a cultural event linked to the Games in August.
Called ONE, the online event was billed as a way to ‘realize an inclusive society’ through music and dance.
However, Nobumi’s name became caught up in the scandal around Oyamada as people also began reposting historic bullying claims against the author.
People pointed out that Nobumi had written and spoken about being abusive towards a female teacher, and had mocked children with birth defects.
Organisers said they raised the comments with him in a meeting following Oyamada’s departure and he subsequently quit.
Kentaro Kobayashi, opening ceremony director, quit Jul 22
A comedian, director and artist, 48-year-old Kobayashi was put in charge of directing the new-look opening ceremony after the Games were delayed.
But, on the eve of the performance he helped devise, a clip of a 1998 TV routine in which he mocked the Holocaust appeared online.
In the clip, he and his comedy partner – part of a double-act known as the Rahmens – were dressed as famous children’s entertainers of the time.
The skit involves the pair discussing ideas to entertain children, when one of them pulls out a string of paper figures – prompting the other to ask where the figures have come from.
‘They’re from that time you said “let’s play the Holocaust”’, the other replies before the pair go on to make light of Nazi atrocities.
Kobayashi attempted to defend himself after the clip surfaced, admitting the lines were ‘extremely inappropriate’ but added they were from a time in his career when he was trying to get attention ‘in a shallow-minded way’.
The Tokyo organising committee subsequently ‘decided to relieve Koybayashi of his post’.
In a recent poll, 68 per cent of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections, with 55 per cent saying they opposed the Games going ahead.
It comes against the backdrop of rising Covid cases within the country driven by the more-infectious Delta variant which has seen Tokyo put into a state of emergency that bans large gatherings, meaning most events will take place without crowds.
On Thursday, the city reported a new daily high of more than 1,900 Covid cases – a rise of 155 per cent in a week – driven mostly by infections among the unvaccinated.
Japan as a whole reported some 5,300 Covid cases Thursday, up from 4,900 infections reported the previous day and the country’s highest toll since May 20.
‘What we have worried about is now actually happening,’ Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said at a weekly news conference.
‘The surge in cases has been expected whether we have the Olympics or not, and we are afraid that there will be an explosive increase in cases regardless of the Games.’
More than 500,000 people in Tokyo have also signed petitions in a bid to stop the Olympics from being held.
Opponents vented their anger on the eve of tomorrow’s official opening with the NO OLYMPICS 2020 campaign group claiming the Games are a cynical bid to make money and gain political power at the expense of public health.
A spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We oppose the Olympic Games because they are a massive exploitation and destruction of people’s lives, livelihoods, public spaces, environment and democracy for the benefit of the IOC, the host city governments, politicians, developers and other capitalists.
‘Tokyo Olympics has brought us many problems such as huge expenditures, evictions, and gentrification of parts of the city.
‘Now, despite the pandemic, the Olympics are about to be forced on the Japanese people with disdain for their lives and livelihoods, and many people are against it.
‘We strongly insist that the Tokyo Olympics should be cancelled immediately.’
Just 19 per cent of residents of the host city believe the Games can be held safely, with more than two-thirds demanding the event be cancelled, even at this late stage.
Pensioner Hideo Kora, 63, told MailOnline: ‘The Games should definitely be cancelled.
‘The number of coronavirus cases is rising and it’s not enough to hold the Games without spectators.’
Moe, 34, a businessman man, said: ‘It’s not an easy question, but if there are no spectators then I think it’s okay to hold the Games.
‘Of course, the athletes have made great efforts to participate so we should show consideration for their feelings.’
However some younger people continue to support holding the Games.
High School student Yu, 17, said: ‘I think the Games should go forward. ‘These events come along only once every four years and the athletes have trained hard. I’d feel sorry for them if it were cancelled.
Part-time worker Keisuke, 25, added: ‘I guess it’s better to hold them.
‘Although there is some impact from the coronavirus, it’s an event for the nation and the world, plus the athletes, so it’s better to continue, I think.’
The Olympic source added: ‘It is going to be hard for the athletes with no supporting crowds and somewhat surreal.
‘But in some way this will be all about natural sporting effort and it all being down to the athlete to get themselves into a medal winning position.
‘They will have to draw on, like never before, banks of energy, guile and self-determination without the roar of the spectators.’
Even with strict Covid rules in place, some 50,000 people are expected to arrive in Tokyo for the event – another sore point after Japan imposed strict border controls to keep the pandemic under control.
Japan has registered 850,000 Covid cases and 15,000 deaths to-date – relatively low figures for such a populous country.
But there are fears the Olympics could accelerate the country’s already-rising case totals because only 20 per cent of the population are vaccinated.
Already there have been 91 Covid cases linked to the Games – including among athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff.
That total only includes those who returned a positive test after arriving in Japan and does not include those diagnosed in their home countries before travelling.
The latest athlete to be hit is Czech table tennis player Pavel Sirucek who will have to withdraw from the competition to complete mandatory 10-day isolation.
US First Lady Jill Biden is pictured arriving in Tokyo to attend the Olympics on Thursday, a day before the Opening Ceremony kicks off
Jill Biden greets US diplomatic staff based in Japan as she arrived in Tokyo for the Olympics
‘Today, we were informed that Pavel Sirucek has tested positive for COVID-19 and is placed in isolation,’ the International Table Tennis Federation said Thursday.
‘Pavel will be marked as Did Not Start in the table tennis competition, in accordance with the Tokyo 2020 Sport-Specific Regulations. We wish him a speedy recovery.’
The 28-year-old is ranked 52nd in the world.
It comes after Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs and Chilean taekwondo fighter Fernanda Aguirre withdrew from the Olympics after being diagnosed Wednesday.
Japanese Emperor Naruhito, speaking at an IOC event on Thursday, acknowledged the difficulty in hosting the games during a pandemic – telling chief Thomas Bach that it is ‘not easy’ to keep infections down.
‘I express my deep respect for your efforts,’ he added.
Despite the opening ceremony taking place on Friday several competitions have already got underway, including soccer – with players from several teams taking the knee to protest racial injustice before kickoffs.
But the International Olympic Committee courted controversy after removing footage of them making the protest from highlight reels broadcast around the world – forcing a quick U-turn.
It comes after the IOC watered down a decades-old rule banning political protests from the Games after backlash from athletes.
The concession under Olympic Charter Rule 50, which has long prohibited any athlete protest inside event venues, was finally allowed this month by the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC has tried to reconcile enforcing the rule while recognizing, and sometimes celebrating, the iconic image of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists on the medal podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
On Wednesday, the British and Chilean teams kneeled before the opening games and were followed by the United States, Sweden and New Zealand players in later kickoffs. The Australia team posed with a flag of Australia’s indigenous people.
Those images were excluded from the official Tokyo Olympic highlights package provided by the IOC to media including The Associated Press who could not broadcast the games live.
Official Olympic social media channels also did not include pictures of the athlete activism.
‘The IOC is covering the Games on its owned and operated platforms and such moments will be included as well,’ the Olympic body said Thursday in an apparent change of policy.
The IOC said hundreds of millions of viewers could have seen the footage watching networks that have official broadcast rights and ‘can use it as they deem fit.’
The decades-long ban on all demonstrations was eased by the IOC three weeks ago when it was clear some athletes – especially in soccer and track and field – would express opinions on the field in Japan.
Two reviews of Rule 50 in the previous 18 months by the IOC’s own athletes commission had concluded Olympic competitors did not want distractions on their field of play.
The new guidance allows taking a knee or raising a fist in pre-game or pre-race introductions but not on medal ceremony podiums. The IOC will still discipline athletes who protest on the podium.
Sports governing bodies still have a veto, and swimming’s FINA has said its athletes are prohibited on the pool deck from any gesture interpreted as protest.
Olympic Committee vice-president branded a ‘mansplaining dinosaur’
The International Olympic Committee’s vice-president has been branded a ‘mansplaining dinosaur’ after berating a female Australian politician about attending the Tokyo opening ceremony.
John Coats began berating Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk following a press conference on Wednesday during which Brisbane – the capital of her state – was announced as the host of the 2032 Olympics.
Ms Palaszczuk, who was in Tokyo for the press conference, had previously said she would reject an invitation to be one of 950 VIPs attending the closed-door opening ceremony on Friday.
‘You are going to the opening ceremony,’ Mr Coats – who is also Australia’s most-senior Olympic official – told Ms Palaszczuk while leaning back in his chair and folding his arms.
‘I’m still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group,’ he continued, speaking through a plastic screen, ‘and so far as I understand, there will be an opening and closing ceremony in 2032.
‘All of you are going to get along there and understand the traditional parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony.’
‘So none of you are staying behind and hiding in your rooms, alright?’
Palaszczuk – one of the most senior women in Australian politics – was visibly uncomfortable, staying silent throughout his monologue.
‘I don’t want to offend anybody, so,’ she said later in the press conference, before trailing off.
Australian lawmakers pilloried Coates for his behaviour, calling on him to apologise and even resign.
‘John Coates should resign on return from Tokyo,’ independent senator Rex Patrick tweeted. ‘He’s a social and political dinosaur who has spent far too long in the rarefied, self-interested @Olympics bubble.’
Pictured: John Coates (left) and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (second left) celebrate with other delegates after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session in Tokyo on July 21, 2021
Social media users also called out Coates for his ‘bullying’ of the centre-left leader.
‘Someone asked what the definition of a mansplaining dinosaur looked like and Coates simply raised his hand,’ one tweeted.
Former Swimming Australia CEO Leigh Russell labelled it ‘disgusting’ while conservative MP Darren Chester called it a ‘disrespectful performance which reeked of arrogance’.
In a statement released by the Australian Olympic Committee, Coates said that his comments had been ‘completely misinterpreted by people who weren’t in the room’.
‘The Premier and I have a long standing and very successful relationship. We both know the spirit of my remarks and I have no indication that she was offended in any way,’ he said.
Palaszczuk, who is under political pressure for flying to Tokyo during the pandemic, played down the incident, telling public broadcaster ABC that Coates was ‘fantastic’ and the ‘driving force behind us securing the Olympics’.
Most Australians are prevented from travelling overseas due to strict international border closures, while about half the country’s population of 25 million is currently under lockdown.