Kentaro Kobayashi has been fired on the eve of the event

Credit: ©Tokyo 2020

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games has been plunged into turmoil after the show director was fired over a joke he made about the Holocaust.

Kentaro Kobayashi, who was partly in charge of the curtain-raiser, was dismissed after facing anti-Semitism allegations over a comment he made in a comedy act in 1998 resurfaced.

According to multiple Japanese newspaper reports, Kobayashi made light of the mass murder of six million Jews by saying, “Let’s play Holocaust”.

The troubled opening ceremony was already facing the headache of replacing a composer after Japanese musician Keigo Oyamada stepped down after historic reports of alleged bullying and abusive behaviour.

A historically low attendance is predicted on Friday, with spectators banned from attending and hundreds of athletes declining invites to show up on Friday due to the perceived Covid-19 risk.

Just 30 of the 375 Team GB athletes will be present, with many nations fielding reduced numbers due to the potential risks.

 Local media reported former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of biggest initicial advocates for bringing the Games to Tokyo, was also planning to skip the showpiece event amid a mounting Japanese backlash.

Show director Kobayashi, meanwhile, had, prior to his dismissal, come under attack by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organisation.

"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," said Abraham Cooper, a rabbi and associate dean and global social action director of the centre. 

On Thursday, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee confirmed Kobayash was dismissed over the joke.

The fresh setback comes months after Yoshiro Mori, the former head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, resigned after making sexist remarks. 

That was soon followed by the resignation of Tokyo Olympics creative head Hiroshi Sasaki after he made derogatory comments about a popular Japanese female entertainer.

In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68 per cent of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections, with 55 per cent saying they opposed the Games going ahead.

As well as dealing with heightened anxiety around infections in Japan, organisers have been treading a fine line politically in recent days.

Team GB’s women’s footballers were given permission to take the knee pre-match against the wishes of the International Olympic Committee. 

There were reports that official channels had been banned from publishing images of the gesture, but Olympic social media channels on Thursday published pictures of Lucy Bronze making the pre-kick off demonstration.

Taking the knee on the podium remains sacrosanct, but there is a growing expectation the International Olympic Committee’s resolve on its Section 50 rule will be tested over the next fortnight.