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Opening Ceremony director for Tokyo Olympics fired on eve of event over past joke about Holocaust

Kentaro Kobayashi
Posted at 7:57 AM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 08:45:58-04

Organizers of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics have dismissed the director of the Opening Ceremony just 24 hours before the event is slated to begin, the latest setback for an event already rife with controversy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials announced Thursday that they dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi, a comedian, after an anti-Semitic joke he made about the holocaust resurfaced in recent days.

It's unclear how Koboyashi's departure will affect the Opening Ceremony, which will formally open the Olympics on Friday at 7 a.m. ET in Tokyo.

"How we're going to handle the ceremony is currently being discussed," organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said Thursday.

According to NBC News, Kobayashi's 1998 joke included the phrase "Let's play Holocaust." The act has resurfaced in recent days in Japanese media.

"We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, had used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy," Hashimoto said.

According to NPR, Kobayashi's resignation comes after the last-minute resignation of the ceremony's composer, Keigo Oyamada. In recent days, an interview he conducted in the 1990s has resurfaced in which he boasted about bullying people with disabilities.

The controversies are just the latest setbacks for the 2021 Games, which were already facing a mountain of challenges not yet seen before in Olympic history.

According to Johns Hopkins, cases of COVID-19 are currently on the rise in Japan, with more people being infected each day than when officials called for a one-year delay in the Games in 2020. And while deaths are down, Japan's vaccine distribution program is lagging behind other countries — as of Thursday, just 23% of the county's population is fully vaccinated.

The 2021 Games will take place in Tokyo under a state of emergency, and no spectators will be allowed in venues — some of which were built specifically to host the Olympics.

Tokyo Olympics Medal Count as of late July 31, 2021