On the eve of the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Olympics fired Kentaro Kobayashi, the 2020 Games’ ceremony director, over a joke he made in 1998. A video of Kobayashi joking about the Holocaust was discovered, leading the Olympics to make the decision to fire him.
Olympics chief Seiko Hashimoto said: “We have discovered that Kentaro Kobayashi in the past made fun of a painful part of history, so he has today been removed from his post. We apologize deeply for the trouble and worry caused.”
Hashimoto says it is unclear how the opening ceremony will be handled with the last-minute change.
The jokes made were from when Kobayashi was working as a comedian, and according to the Mainichi newspaper, the skit in question took place in 1998.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement saying Kobayashi comments were “malicious.”
“Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews,” Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement.
Others spoke out against the comments, including Japan Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu who called the jokes “deeply offensive and unacceptable.”
“Such remarks also go completely against the value of unity that the Olympic and Paralympic Games strive for, and against our goal of realizing a society where everyone can live in harmony,” Toshimitsu said.
Friday’s opening ceremony is expected to welcome Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, U.S. First Lady Jill Biden, and French President Emmanuel Macron.