Olympic organizers on Thursday dismissed the opening ceremony director, Kentaro Kobayashi, following reports of his past remarks about the Holocaust.
Kobayashi, a former comedian, had made a joke about the Holocaust in a 1998 comedy show.
“It came to light that during a past performance, [he] used language that mocked a tragic fact of history,” Tokyo 2020 Olympic chief Seiko Hashimoto told reporters.
“The organizing committee has decided to relieve Kobayashi of his post,” she added.
The opening ceremony is set for Friday. While details are kept secret, some 950 people will be allowed to attend at the 68,000-capacity Tokyo Olympic Stadium. Due to coronavirus restrictions, nearly all other events will be held with spectators present.
The well-known figure in Japanese theater apologized in a statement.
“In a video that was released in 1998 to introduce young comedians… a skit that I wrote contained lines that were extremely inappropriate,” he said.
“It was from a time when I was not able to get laughs the way I wanted, and I believe I was trying to grab people’s attention in a shallow-minded way.”
In the sketch, Kobayashi and a comedy partner were pretending to be famous children’s TV entertainers. Kobayashi then referred to some paper doll cutouts as “the ones from that time you said ‘let’s play the Holocaust.'”
Another blow to Tokyo Olympics
The months leading up to the Tokyo Games have been mired in scandals.
The ceremony was already set to go ahead without its planned opening music after composer Keigo Oyamada was forced to quit. Oyamada had bragged in interviews about bullying his disabled classmates in the past.
In March, the opening ceremony creative director Hiroshi Sasaki also resigned after his plans to have a plus-size model float into the stadium as an “Olympig” sparked anger.
Hashimoto herself was named the Tokyo Olympics chief after the previous president stepped down over derogatory remarks he had made about women.
Olympic organizers also face a backlash in Japan as critics oppose holding the event during the coronavirus pandemic.