The show director for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony has been fired over a decades-old comedy skit referencing the Holocaust, organisers said Thursday, in the latest blow for the pandemic-delayed Games.
Kentaro Kobayashi made the comment in a video of the sketch dating from 1998 that emerged online on the eve of Friday’s ceremony.
“It came to light that during a past performance, (he) used language that mocked a tragic fact of history,” Tokyo 2020 Olympic chief Seiko Hashimoto told reporters.
“The organising committee has decided to relieve Kobayashi of his post,” she added.
In the sketch, Kobayashi and a comedy partner pretend to be a pair of famous children’s TV 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 activity.
The sketch sparked shock from some in Japan.
“It’s inevitable that they’ll face a fireball of criticism,” wrote one online viewer, though others questioned the reaction to a sketch over two decades old.
In a statement, Kobayashi apologised.
“In a video that was released in 1998 to introduce young comedians... a skit that I wrote contained lines that were extremely inappropriate,” he said.
“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.”
Kobayashi, a well-known figure in theatre in Japan, is the latest member of the opening ceremony team to depart in disgrace.
On Monday, a composer for the ceremony stepped down following an outcry over old interviews in which he described abusing disabled schoolmates.
The creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, also resigned in March after suggesting a plus-size female comedian appear as a pig.
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