The director of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony was fired Thursday (July 22) for a joke made about the Holocaust during a 1998 comedy show.
Kentaro Kobayashi was terminated just one day prior to the event, which is scheduled for Friday (July 23), in the latest of numerous setbacks to hit the pandemic-delayed Summer Games, NBC News reports.
The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee released a statement regarding Kobayashi's firing, noting that the decision was made "after a joke he had made in the past about a painful historical event was brought to light."
During the comedy act, Kobayashi used the phrase, "Let's play Holocaust," Tokyo 2020 organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto confirmed in the committee's official statement via NBC News.
“We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, had used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Hashimoto said.
“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.”
Kobayashi also released a statement obtained by NBC News saying he regretted making the comments.
"Entertainment should not make people feel uncomfortable. I understand that my stupid choice of words at that time was wrong, and I regret it," Kobayashi said.
The 48-year-old is a former member of the comedy duo "Rahmens" and a video of his 1998 routine was recently unearthed, drawing immediate condemnation from Jewish groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, after it went viral.
In the video, Kobayashi is shown cutting up paper figures of humans and says, "let's massacre Jewish people game" during the routine.
"Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics."
It's unknown who initially posted the footage of Kobayashi referencing the Holocaust as of Thursday.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga confirmed Thursday (July 8) that the upcoming pandemic-delayed Summer Games would take place with a state of emergency in effect for the country's capital city, CNN reports.
On July 7, Kyodo News reported the Japanese government was expected to declare another COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo until August 22 -- which exceeds the duration of the upcoming Olympic Games -- amid a recent surge in infections, a source with knowledge of the plan confirmed.
The decision was expected to impact whether fans will be allowed to attend the event, which was already limited to 50% capacity (maximum 10,000 fans) as of last month.
A senior government official told Kyodo News that venues in Tokyo would likely remain empty, while some events will be held outside of the city, at the time of the report Wednesday.
The Tokyo metropolitan government reported 920 new COVID-19 cases at the time of the report, which was the largest increase since Japan's fourth wave of infections in mid-May and marked the 18th consecutive time the country saw an increase from the previous week.
Prime Minister Suga said a decision on what to do regarding a quasi-state of emergency set to expire on Sunday in 10 prefectures (including Tokyo and Osaka), as well as the ongoing state of emergency in Okinawa, will be made on Thursday (July 8).
"Infections in Tokyo are trending upward, and we will take every necessary measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus," Suga told reporters after meeting with cabinet members, including health minister Norihisa Tamura and Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of Japan's COVID-19 response.
Tokyo has been under a state of emergency three times previously since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, which has included the Japanese government banning restaurants from serving alcohol, a measure reportedly being considered again, according to sources who spoke to Kyodo News anonymously.
The decision comes amid public opposition of Japan hosting the four-year annual event -- which was canceled in 2020 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic -- due to continued coronavirus concerns, although some criticism has softened with the rate of new infections beginning to decrease.
Many health officials still fear that crowds at the Olympics could drive cases up as the vast majority of Japan has not been vaccinated.
In June, Dr. Shigeru Omi, Japan's top medical adviser, recommended that the safest way to hold the Olympics would be without fans and allowing attendance presents a risk not just at venues, but also to more circulation on commuter trains, as well as in restaurants and other public spaces, according to ABC News.