Tokyo 2020: July 23-Aug 8

Games continue to take a beating

From anti-Semitic jokes to bullying, Tokyo 2020 may turn into 'public relations disaster'

TOKYO • Tokyo Olympics organisers fired the opening ceremony director yesterday after reports of a past joke he had made about the Holocaust emerged.

Kentaro Kobayashi had in the 1990s made a joke about the Holocaust as part of a comedy act.

International Jewish human rights organisation Simon Wiesenthal Centre had released a statement saying Kobayashi's association with the Olympics would "insult the memory" of the six million Jews who perished.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said comments by the show director, who has since apologised in a statement, were "outrageous and unacceptable" but that the opening ceremony should proceed as planned.

Meanwhile, Japanese media said former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a strong advocate of the Games, would not attend the ceremony.

He had played an outsized role in attracting the Olympics to Tokyo. At the time of the bid, he and his supporters hoped the Olympics would parallel the 1964 Tokyo Games, heralding the nation's revival after decades of economic stagnation, and also mark its recovery from a massive earthquake and nuclear disaster in 2011.

But the spectacle of last-minute personnel changes, resurfacing of old abusive comments and looming presence of the pandemic have threatened to turn it into a "public relations disaster".

Adding to the list of embarrassments yesterday was International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates, who has denied bullying a female politician into attending the opening ceremony.

Coates, who is also the head of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), publicly berated Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk over her plans to give the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony tonight a miss after her state capital Brisbane on Wednesday was named the host city of the 2032 Games.

"You are going to the opening ceremony," he said, crossing his arms and sitting back in his chair.

"I'm still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group and so far as I understand, there will be an opening and closing ceremony in 2032, and all of you are going to get along there and understand the traditional parts of that, what's involved in an opening ceremony.

"So none of you are staying behind and hiding in your rooms, alright?"

Ms Palaszczuk, one of the most senior women in Australian politics, was visibly uncomfortable, staying silent throughout Coates' monologue.

Australian lawmakers pilloried Coates for his behaviour, calling on him to apologise and even resign.

"John Coates should resign on return from Tokyo," independent senator Rex Patrick tweeted.

"He's a social and political dinosaur who has spent far too long in the rarefied, self-interested Olympics bubble."

Social media users also called out Coates for his "bullying" of the centre-left leader and accused him of misogyny.

"Someone asked what the definition of a mansplaining dinosaur looked like and Coates simply raised his hand," one tweeted.

But in a statement released by the AOC, Coates said his comments had been "completely misinterpreted by people who weren't in the room".

On attending today's opening ceremony, Ms Palaszczuk made a U-turn, telling the Nine Network yesterday she would "do whatever John Coates tells me to do".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2021, with the headline 'Games continue to take a beating'. Subscribe