Kentaro Kobayashi, who is also a comedian, said he made the comment during a performance in 1998 and regretted it

By Lindsay Kimble
July 22, 2021 05:24 AM
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Performers for Tokyo Paralympics ceremonies
A photo of Kentaro Kobayashi is held up during a 2019 Tokyo Olympics meeting
| Credit: Kyodo via AP Images

With just about 24 hours to go, the director of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony has been dismissed from his role due to past controversial remarks.

Kentaro Kobayashi, who is a Japanese director and comedian, made jokes about the Holocaust during a comedy act in 1998 that was recently resurfaced, USA Today reported. (Among his comments, he said, "Let's play Holocaust," according to the Associated Press.)

Those criticizing Kobayashi's previous remarks included Holocaust research and remembrance organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

In a statement, the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee said, "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."

In his own statement released by the committee, Kobayashi said in Japanese, "I understand that my choice of words was wrong, and I regret it. I am sorry," USA Today reported.

Tokyo's Olympic committee president, Seiko Hashimoto, said Thursday that the entire opening ceremony program was being reviewed and that she regretted not being aware of Kobayashi's past comments before Wednesday.

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Ahead of Kobayashi's firing, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Associate Dean and Global Social Action Director Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement of the director, "Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide. The Nazi regime also gassed Germans with disabilities. Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics."

This is not the first incident involving the exit of a member of the Olympics organizing committee. In February, former Tokyo Olympics President Yoshiro Mori stepped down amid backlash over sexist remarks he made during a meeting streamed online a week prior.

According to the AP, Mori apologized for the comments but did not step down from the position, to which he was appointed in 2014, until facing mounting pressure, including an online petition that drew 150,000 signatures.

The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games is expected to begin on Friday at 7:55 p.m. local time/6:55 a.m. EST.

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23rd and the Tokyo Paralympics beginning August 24th on NBC.