The director of the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony was fired Thursday over a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy show in 1998.
Kentaro Kobayashi was ousted just a day before the pandemic-delayed Games were set to officially kickoff Friday with an elaborate ceremony he helped create, the latest in a long list of setbacks to hit the event.
Kobayashi was fired “after a joke he had made in the past about a painful historical event was brought to light,” the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said in a statement.
Kobayashi used the phrase “Let’s play Holocaust” in the act, organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said in a statement. “We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, had used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Hashimoto said.
“We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties as well as the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has faced criticism for the decision to hold the Games in the midst of the pandemic, told reporters Thursday that the incident was “utterly outrageous and completely unacceptable.”
Kobayashi helped craft an opening ceremony at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium that will get underway at 7 a.m. ET Friday with no fans in the stands because of the Covid-19 crisis and the current state of emergency in Tokyo.