On the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, organizers fired the director of the opening ceremony for comments he made about the Holocaust, while media reported that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a memorable defender of the Tokyo Games , he would skip the main event.
The news is the latest in a series of embarrassments for Tokyo organizers that have sparked outrage at home and abroad, and it comes just days later. a well-known musician was forced to resign as the composer of the ceremony after old reports of his abusive behavior and harassment came to light.
Abe, who dressed up as the titular plumber from the Super Mario video game at the Rio Games to represent Japan, played a huge role in bringing the Olympics to Tokyo.
In a speech in front of a banquet hall packed with members of the International Olympic Committee in 2013, he said that the persistent nuclear disaster in Fukushima was “under control” and presented his nation as a “passionate, proud and a firm believer” in the Olympic Games.
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At the time, Abe and his supporters expected the Olympics to parallel the 1964 Tokyo Games, heralding the nation’s rebirth after decades of economic stagnation and also marking its recovery from a devastating nuclear and natural disaster in 2011.
Instead, the Games, delayed by a year due to the global pandemic, have faced a series of setbacks, including the departure of Yoshiro Mori, the former head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, who resigned after making sexist comments. That was soon followed by the resignation of Tokyo Olympics creative director Hiroshi Sasaki after he made disparaging comments about a popular Japanese artist.
The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said Kentaro Kobayashi, who is listed as entertainment director for the Games’ opening event, was fired after a joke he made about the Holocaust as part of his comedy act in 1998 resurfaced in the Los Angeles. national media.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization, had previously issued a statement condemning Kobayashi’s past behavior.
“Any association of this person with the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and cruelly mock the Paralympics,” said Abraham Cooper, rabbi, associate dean and director of global social action for the center.
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Friday’s opening ceremony, which typically stands as a grand showcase for the host nation, is ready to be a moderate affair, and Japanese media reported that fewer than 950 people, including only about 15 world leaders, are scheduled to attend.
First lady Jill Biden is expected to land in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon for the Games’ opening ceremony, raising expectations that she may also use her assistance to discuss vaccines with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Biden has been traveling the United States urging more people in the country to get vaccinated.
Only a third of Japanese have received at least one dose of the vaccine, raising public concern that the Olympics could become a wide-spread event. Already dozens of attendees have tested positive for COVID-19, which has forced athletes to withdraw and their teammates to isolate themselves.
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NHK said Abe decided not to attend the ceremony after the Japanese government declared a state of emergency and virus restrictions in Tokyo, in an effort to minimize health risks among residents and visitors. Abe’s office could not be immediately reached on Thursday, a public holiday in Japan.
COVID-19 infections have risen in the capital and are projected to rise further, putting pressure on healthcare providers.
In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68% of those polled expressed doubts about the Olympic organizers’ ability to control coronavirus infections, and 55% said they were opposed to the Games going ahead.
The Olympic competition has already begun, with the Japanese women’s softball team leading the hosts to a winning start on Wednesday, while the highly ranked US women’s soccer team was teased by Sweden.
The second day of softball began early Thursday under cloudy skies in Fukushima with the United States defeating Canada by one run to go 2-0 in qualifying. Japan will face Mexico later.
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New cases of COVID-19 among athletes
Two athletes were among the four residents of the Olympic Village who added Thursday to the count of people accredited for the Tokyo Games who tested positive for COVID-19 this month, bringing the number to 91.
Skater Candy Jacobs from the Netherlands and table tennis player Pavel Sirucek from the Czech Republic tested positive and had to leave town for a quarantine hotel in the cases announced Wednesday.
Two additional “Games concerned personnel,” a category that includes coaches and team officials, who stayed in town overlooking Tokyo Bay were included in the total of 91 cases listed by organizers since 1st of July.
That number does not include athletes who tested positive at home before their scheduled trip to Tokyo for events that will now be missed.
(Reporting by Mari Saito, Daniel Leussink, Kiyoshi Takenaka, and Tim Kelly; edited by Lincoln Feast.)