The creative director of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony has been dismissed on the eve of of Friday's event over making fun of the Holocaust in the past.
Olympics organizers announced the firing of Kentaro Kobayashi on Thursday, and pledged that the entire opening programme of the ceremony at National Stadium will be closely scrutinized again.
“How we’re going to handle the ceremony is currently being discussed,” organizing committee president Seiko Hasimoto told a news conference.
The decision came after a video surfaced from a performance in 1998 in which the former comedian Kobayashi made fun of the Holocaust, reportedly including using the words “Let’s play Holocaust."
The organizing committee said in a statement that "Kentaro was dismissed from his post after a joke he had made in the past about a painful historical event was brought to light. Following this, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee relieved Mr Kobayashi of his role as a member of the team.
"In the short time remaining before the Opening Ceremony, we offer our deepest apologies for any offence 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."
Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (SWC) welcomed the decision.
"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,” SWC Associate dean and global social action director, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said.
Kobayashi's dismissal is the latest affair and blow to Olympic organizers.
On Monday, the composer for the opening ceremony, Keigo Oyamada, resigned after reports surfaced online that he had bullied children, including disabled ones, during his school days.
Former organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori resigned over remarks deemed sexist earlier in the year, and ceremonies director Hiroshi Sasaki stepped down after suggesting a local actress should dress as a pig.
A majority of Japanese oppose the Games to be staged amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Olympic top sponsors Toyota, a big Japanese car maker, have pulled their Games-related adverts in the country because they were fearing for their image.
Hashimoto admitted that "we are facing a lot of challenges right now" and feared they could have a negative impact.
"Maybe that’s the reason why these negative incidents will impact the messages we want to deliver to the world. The value of Tokyo 2020 is still exciting and we want to send our messages to the world," she said.