Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony director fired for Holocaust joke

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NBC News 22 July, 2021 - 04:02am 21 views

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Kentaro Kobayashi was ousted just a day before the pandemic-delayed Games were set to officially kickoff Friday with an elaborate ceremony he helped create, the latest in a long list of setbacks to hit the event.

Kobayashi was fired “after a joke he had made in the past about a painful historical event was brought to light,” the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said in a statement.

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

“We deeply apologize 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.”

Kobayashi said Thursday he regretted the incident.

"Entertainment should not make people feel uncomfortable. I understand that my stupid choice of words at that time was wrong, and I regret it," he said in a statement.

Kobayashi, 48, is a former member of a comedy duo called "Rahmens" and his unearthed attempt at Holocaust humor drew immediate condemnation from Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles after it surfaced on Twitter.

Kobayashi is shown cutting up paper figures of human beings while talking about coming up with a “let’s massacre Jewish people game” in the skit.

It was not immediately clear who first posted the video footage online.

"Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide," said the group’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who said the Nazis also sent disabled Germans to the gas chambers.

"Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics," he said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has faced criticism for the decision to hold the Games in the midst of the pandemic, told reporters Thursday that the incident was "utterly outrageous and completely unacceptable."

Kobayashi helped craft an opening ceremony at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium that will get underway at 7 a.m. ET Friday with no fans in the stands due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the current state of emergency in Tokyo.

While the stadium can seat 68,000 people, there will be less than a thousand officials on hand to cheer on the athletes from more than 200 countries. Dignitaries will include First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who is leading the American delegation, and Japanese Emperor Naruhito.

The ouster of Kobayashi came just days after another key member of the creative group that put together the opening ceremony, musician Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada, was fired after boasts that he bullied disabled classmates surfaced online.

Oyamada apologized and both he and his music were removed from the program.

The Olympics have been beset by several other scandals over the past year, too.

In February, the president of the committee, Yoshiro Mori, was forced out after he said female sports officials talk too much during meetings. A month later, the Games' original creative director, Hiroshi Sasaki, was ousted for comparing Japanese celebrity Naomi Watanabe to a pig.

Even before Kobayashi's departure was announced Friday, the national newspaper Asahi Shimbun blasted the committee, writing that is has been "dogged by a series of missteps."

"The "Festival of Peace" is going to open amid this pathetic mess nobody even imagined possible," the newspaper wrote, referring to one of the themes of the opening ceremony.

Olympics officials acknowledged the troubles but said they remained determined to press ahead.

“We are going to have the opening ceremony tomorrow and, yes, I am sure there are a lot of people who are not feeling easy about the opening of the Games,” Hashimoto said.

“But we are going to open the Games tomorrow under this difficult situation.”

Read full article at NBC News

Olympic Athletes Take A Knee To Protest Racism : Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics

NPR 22 July, 2021 - 06:10am

British women's soccer players took a knee on the first day of competition at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, in a protest against discrimination and racism that was quickly reciprocated by their opponents from Chile.

It was the first time Olympians in Japan utilized newly relaxed rules on athletes expressing their views.

"Taking the knee was something we spoke about as a group. We feel so strongly and we want to show we're united," said Steph Houghton, one of Britain's co-captains, as quoted by the BBC. "We want to fight all forms of discrimination and as a group of women, we wanted to kneel against it."

Soccer players from the U.S. and Swedish women's squads also took a knee before their match — in which Sweden upset the Americans. Just before play began, a referee joined the players at midfield in dropping to the turf on one knee. An assistant referee also took a knee.

Other athletes, including New Zealand's women's soccer team, also took a knee on Wednesday. Their opponents from Australia remained standing, with their arms intertwined. Moments earlier, the Australians had posed for their team photo holding a large flag representing Australia's Aboriginal people — a banner that was first raised 50 years ago.

The first Olympic athletes to advocate for social justice at the @Tokyo2020jp Olympic Games ⚽️@NZ_Football #EarnTheFern#KoTātauTeKapaOAotearoa pic.twitter.com/X1ZK7EzVk2

"We are delighted that the IOC has made room for athletes to use their voices for good at the Olympic Games and are proud of our athletes for making a global stand for greater racial equality," said Rob Waddell, who is the New Zealand Olympic Committee's chef de mission for the Tokyo Games.

New Zealand says its Olympic delegation includes 33 athletes who are of Maori descent.

The International Olympic Committee eased its rules on "athlete expression" on July 2, detailing ways in which Olympians can express their opinions while also observing the IOC's Rule 50 — which is intended to preserve the neutrality of the Olympic Games.

Under the new guidelines, athletes in Tokyo can take a knee or perform similar gestures as long as their actions don't target specific people or countries and are not disruptive.

The Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony is slated for Friday. Large tournament-format sports such as softball and soccer kicked off their opening rounds of group play on Wednesday.

Op-Ed: Tokyo's Olympics have turned nightmarish. L.A., are you watching?

Los Angeles Times 22 July, 2021 - 05:01am

No kidding. Japan’s top medical advisor Shigeru Omi declared it was “not normal” to stage the Games during a pandemic. Dr. Annie Sparrow, a public health specialist, said of the IOC, “There’s been an ignorance of science.” Toyota, which reportedly paid $1 billion to sponsor the Games over eight years, pulled its Olympic-themed commercials from local airwaves because of the event’s polarizing effect in the host country.

But the Games will go on.

The Tokyo Olympics, with opening ceremonies scheduled for 4 a.m. Pacific time Friday, may seem like a distant event carried out under unprecedented conditions that have little to do with Los Angeles. But the saga of these Games offers key lessons that Angelenos must confront. The Tokyo debacle has exposed an International Olympic Committee that disrespects the will of locals, brushes off inconvenient concerns of experts and prioritizes its profits over all else. The Olympics kneecap democracy, and the Games are extraordinarily vulnerable to catastrophe.

The Olympics come with a Jekyll and Hyde effect: The IOC’s warm embrace of host cities during the bid stage can turn into a vise grip. Back in 2013, the IOC trumpeted Tokyo as “a safe pair of hands” for the Games, but the committee steamrolled the locals at will. In 2019, for example, citing summer heat, the IOC relocated the marathon from Tokyo 500 miles north to Sapporo, angering Tokyo’s governor because, she said, the host city was not consulted.

And that was before the pandemic.

Amid the recent public clamoring to further postpone or just plain cancel the Games, the IOC’s tyranny over its hosts in Tokyo has been abundantly evident. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga admitted he was powerless, despite his nation’s desires. “The IOC has the authority to decide,” he said, “and the IOC has already decided to hold the Tokyo Olympics.”

Suga was right. The host city contract Tokyo signed — and the one L.A. signed to host the 2028 Games — states that only the IOC can cancel the Games. In Japan, the contract’s tremendous powers included an ability to transmogrify the elected leader of a sovereign state into a mere supplicant.

“Seeing more of how the International Olympic Committee operates, it’s not what I thought it was,” Felix told the New York Times. “The athletes are a very minimal part. The athletes do not have a seat at the table when the decisions are being made. Now I get where we fall in the grand scheme of this ginormous thing that makes a ton of money — the athletes don’t see that money. It’s a big machine.”

The “big machine” is an expensive one, too. Tokyo costs have skyrocketed, from $7.3 billion to around $30 billion by some calculations. Los Angeles Olympic boosters have boasted that the 2028 Games will be privately funded, and that the costs are under control. And yet cost estimates have already escalated from $5.3 billion during the bid process to $6.9 billion today. And this doesn’t include billions in security costs that will largely be covered by the federal government — which is to say, taxpayers across the U.S.

For NBCUniversal, televising the Olympic Games is a marquee moment for its TV networks and a huge money-making event.

Potentially there’s more bad news for taxpayers. In 2019, Mayor Eric Garcetti projected a profit of $1 billion for L.A. from the 2028 Games, but he produced zero specific evidence to back it up. Olympic true believers are already betting beer that Garcetti’s $1 billion will come to pass. But the city and state are the real gamblers: They are on the hook for cost overruns.

Tokyo underscores the Olympics’ conspicuous democracy deficit in other ways, too. Signatories to the Tokyo 2020 host-city contract are no longer in office today. Likewise, Garcetti and then-City Council member and president Herb Wesson, whose names grace L.A.’s host-city agreement, will be long gone from those offices in 2028. Plus, neither Tokyo nor Los Angeles afforded its residents the opportunity to vote on whether they were keen to host.

That there are downsides to hosting the Olympics is no surprise. Consider the displacement of 77,000 people in Rio de Janeiro; the destruction of a sacred forest to make way for an Olympic ski run in Pyeongchang, South Korea; the herd of white-elephant stadiums that no one uses in Athens; the gentrification linked to the London 2012 Olympics where Newham, one of the five host boroughs for the Games, experienced the largest spike in home prices in all of London while simultaneously becoming the borough with the highest rate of homelessness.

But what we might call the traditional risks of hosting the Games pale in comparison to the way the IOC has muscled Japan around in the midst of the pandemic. Angelenos might consider what the committee would do to L.A.’s plans if the summer of 2028 is as hot, dry and fire prone as the summer of 2021.

The IOC’s decision to hold the Tokyo Olympics amid an ongoing pandemic in Japan has presented a plethora challenges — and positive tests for athletes before the Games have even begun.

Television broadcasters paid billions to the IOC to air the Games — since 2011, NBC alone has paid more than $12 billion to screen the Olympics through 2032. It generated $1.6 billion just from the 2016 Rio Olympics. Seventy-three percent of the IOC’s revenue comes from broadcaster fees. NBC, for its part, expects Tokyo to be its most profitable Games ever.

As for the return on investment Tokyo hoped to see as host to athletes, spectators and marketers from around the world — it’s mostly gone with the pandemic.

Let the 2020 Games be a warning for L.A. In Japan, the gold will go to the five-ring powerbrokers. Tokyo is the also ran.

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