Olympic opening ceremony head sacked on the eve of Tokyo 2020 Games

The director of the Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired for jokes about the Holocaust yesterday, causing fresh embarrassment a day before the pandemic-delayed Games finally get under way.

The latest row involving a senior Games figure comes at a time of widespread opposition to the Olympics as Tokyo battles its highest number of coronavirus cases since January.

Japan's Covid-19 crisis has worsened in the 16 months since the Olympics' unprecedented postponement, prompting a state of emergency and a ban on all Games spectators in Tokyo.

But organisers will hope today's opening ceremony - in a near-empty Olympic Stadium - and the start of the full sporting programme tomorrow will change attitudes.

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Caeleb Dressel are among the big names taking part in the 16-day, 33-sport Games.

Ceremonies director Kobayashi was sacked after a video emerged of a 1998 comedy sketch where he made jokes about the Holocaust, drawing laughter from the audience.

Kobayashi apologised, calling the sketch "extremely inappropriate". "It was from a time when I was not able to get laughs the way I wanted, and I believe I was trying to grab people's attention in a shallow-minded way," he said in a statement.

Tokyo 2020 has lost several top officials, including ex-chief organiser Yoshiro Mori, who stepped down over sexist comments in February.

Composer Keigo "Cornelius" Oyamada was also fired when interviews surfaced where he described bullying disabled schoolmates. - AFP