Kentaro Kobayashi Holocaust joke: what did the former Tokyo 2020 Olympic opening ceremony show director say?

Kobayashi’s dismissal is the latest in a long line of controversies to hit the Games, and in particular the opening ceremony

Mayor of Rio de Janeiro Eduardo Paes, IOC President Thomas Bach and Governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike take part in the Flag Handover Ceremony during the Closing Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Friday’s opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been plunged into further chaos following the dismissal of its show director.

Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto confirmed to media that Kentaro Kobayashi has been sacked on the eve of the event due to alleged anti-Semitic jokes he made during a comedy routine in 1998.

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What did he say?

Kobayashi – a former member of popular comedy duo Rahmens and known overseas for comedy series including The Japanese Tradition – has been accused of using a joke about the Holocaust in a comedy act 23 years ago, including the phrase “Let’s play Holocaust.”

“We found out that Mr Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Hashimoto said, after a video clip and script of Kobayashi’s performance were revealed online.

“We deeply apologise 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.”

How does Kobayashi’s resignation affect the ceremony?

Hashimoto added that plans to push ahead with the opening ceremony and the Games are unaffected by “this difficult situation”, noting that organisers have been preparing for the last year “to send a positive message.”

No fans and fewer than 1,000 VIPs will be present in the 68,000 capacity Tokyo Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony, with a string of heads of major corporations such as Toyota and Panasonic announcing publicly that they would withdraw, citing concerns over the public’s perception of the Games.

Very little is known about what could be included in the ceremony.

Hiroshi Sasaki, a former advertising executive, is the ceremony’s creative director. The festivities are likely to be slightly different than originally planned last year, due to the lack of fans in the stadium.

Japanese media have reported that Emperor Naruhito will be present at the ceremony, but will pointedly refrain from using the word “celebrate”.

Only around 30 of more than 200 Team GB athletes who are currently in Tokyo are expected to march at the ceremony, with many citing coronavirus concerns.

Who else has left the Games?

The show’s composer Keigo Oyamada was forced to resign earlier this week after footage emerged of interviews in which he admitted bullying disabled children during his schooldays.

And its executive creative director Hiroshi Sasaki stepped down in March following criticism of his suggestion that plus-size model Naomi Watanabe dress up as a pig during the ceremony.

That departure followed that of Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee who was forced to resign in February after sexist comments made in which he said women “talk too much.”

When is the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony?

The opening ceremony will take place on Friday 23 July.

The ceremony will start at 8pm Japanese time, meaning it will kick off at 12pm in the UK.

The event will be held in the main Olympic Stadium, which will host athletics and football during the Games.

The opening ceremony will be broadcast live on both BBC One and Eurosport on TV.

If you don’t have access to a TV, the ceremony can be streamed for free via the BBC iPlayer, and Eurosport subscribers can watch live via the Eurosport Player app.