Opening ceremony director for Tokyo Olympics fired after comments about Holocaust surface

·3 min read

TOKYO — Organizers announced Thursday that they have dismissed the director of the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics after learning that he made light of the Holocaust in a comedy routine.

The firing of the director, comedian and theater director Kentaro Kobayashi, comes a little more than 24 hours before the scheduled start of the ceremony Friday.

"We offer our deepest apologies for any offense 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 said in a statement.

Kobayashi said 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," he wrote in Japanese. "I am sorry."

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," she said.

A view of Olympic Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held.
A view of Olympic Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish global human rights organization based in Los Angeles, condemned Kobayashi's remarks in a statement released Wednesday. The center, 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 center's associate dean and global social action director.

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RELATED: Ceremony composer resigns after backlash for bullying

Kobayashi's dismissal is the latest in a string of embarrassing moments for the organizing committee, and particularly its opening ceremony team.

Keigo Oyamada, a Japanese composer, resigned from the Tokyo 2020 creative team earlier this week amid backlash for bullying a classmate with disabilities during his childhood. And a previous creative director for the opening ceremony, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned in March amid revelations that he had made sexist remarks about a well-known female entertainer in Japan, likening her in a brainstorming session to a pig.

The former president of the organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, also resigned earlier this year after making sexist remarks about women.

Organizers said Thursday that the crowd on hand at the opening ceremony will be limited to about 950 people, including VIPs, government officials and foreign dignitaries. First Lady Jill Biden will be there as the head of the U.S. delegation, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has said it expects about 230 of its athletes to march during the ceremony.

Details about the content of the opening ceremony remain largely under wraps, though it is expected to have more of a somber, thankful note than other recent ceremonies, with COVID-19 likely to be a major theme.

Contact Tom Schad at or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Director of 2021 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony fired after comments