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A technician works next to Olympic rings at Ariake Urban Sports Park on July 22. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

The director of the Games' opening ceremony was fired Thursday over his past comments about the Holocaust during a comedy performance, the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee announced.

Why it matters: Kentaro Kobayashi's removal came a day before the opening ceremony of the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games was due to start. Organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said at a news conference Thursday, "How we're going to handle the ceremony is currently being discussed."

Driving the news: Hashimoto confirmed earlier Kobayashi's dismissal over a 1998 clip, shared online, in which a man identified as the now-former opening ceremony director jokes about the Nazi atrocity in a skit titled, "Let's play Holocaust."

  • "We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy," Hashimoto said, per AP.
  • "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."

The big picture: The opening ceremony will be a "sobering" performance, Marco Balich, a senior advisor to the Tokyo ceremonies executive producer, recently told Reuters.

  • It will have "beautiful Japanese aesthetics. Very Japanese but also in sync with the sentiment of today, the reality," Balich said.
  • He added that since there cannot be mass choreography due to coronavirus and there's no audience, "[t]he opening ceremony in a way is going to be unique and focus only on the athletes."
  • "It will be very meaningful, far from the grandiosity of previous ceremonies. The moment is now. It is a beautiful effort. A very truthful, honest ceremony, nothing fake," Balich noted.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional details.

Go deeper

Updated Jul 23, 2021 - Sports

Japan's Naomi Osaka lights Olympic cauldron, kicking off Tokyo Games

Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

After a year-long delay, the Olympics finally got underway Friday as tennis star Naomi Osaka, who is competing for Japan, lit the cauldron, formally kicking off the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: Friday's opening ceremony looked, like many things over the last year, different than normal — multicolored seats replaced cheering fans, masks were a central part of the athletes' uniforms and a subdued, somber tone marked the occasion.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Updated Jul 23, 2021 - Sports

What it's like inside the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

TOKYO -- On television, this year's Olympics opening ceremony may not look that different from years past. But pan back just a bit from the action on the field, and things feel more like a dress rehearsal than the real thing.

Why it matters: Already delayed a year due to COVID-19, little about the Tokyo Olympic Games is normal. Cheering is banned, as are most of the spectators, leaving the athletes to enter a largely empty Olympic Stadium.

Updated Jul 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Guinea reverses decision to withdraw from Tokyo Olympics

Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Guinea’s sports ministry reversed its decision to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics Thursday and will send a delegation after all, the AP reports.

Why it matters: The reversal comes just a day after the country announced it had canceled its participation in this year’s Games as a precaution to the recent surge of COVID-19 variants.