The Tokyo Olympics technical director announced Thursday his intention to resign after his offensive comments about a Japanese host, creating a new headache for the organizers, nearly four months before the Olympiad opens.
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A Japanese newspaper revealed, Wednesday, that Hiroshi Sasaki suggested last year that actress and presenter Naomi Watanabe wear a pig costume at the games’ opening ceremony.
In a statement, Mr. Sasaki said he was “deeply sorry” for this “grave affront” to the generous young woman.
The case comes just over a month after the resignation of Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, whose gender-biased remarks sparked global outrage.
In March 2020, before the Olympics was postponed to this year due to the pandemic, Mr. Sasaki suggested to colleagues via a messaging app that they bring Naomi Watanabe from the sky during the opening ceremony while dressed in a pink costume with pig ears.
His idea, immediately dismissed as inappropriate, was to play on the English words “Olympiad” and “Olympiads” (“pig” means pig).
It would have been a serious insult to Mrs. Watanabe (…). Sasaki said in a statement, “I deeply regret it, I deeply regret it.”
He said that on Wednesday evening he had spoken to the new chairperson of the Olympic Organizing Committee, Sekou Hashimoto, and had informed her of his intention to leave his post.
Tokyo 2020 did not immediately respond, but announced a press conference on Thursday on the topic, at which Ms. Hashimoto is expected to speak.
Mr. Sasaki was not appointed Technical Director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics until December, but he was already a main character in many of the shows related to the Games.
Initially responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies for the Paralympics, he also engineered the sober event at Tokyo Olympic Stadium last summer that kicked off the new one-year countdown to the Games. Postponed (July 23 – Aug 8, 2021).
In 2016, Mr. Sasaki was also behind the idea of disguising the then Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, as “Super Mario” during the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics, which was a successful surprise.
Naomi Watanabe, 33, is a well-known media personality in Japan, whose Instagram account is followed by more than 9 million people. She did not immediately respond to Sasaki’s case.
Ms. Watanabe has been famous in Japan since imitating singer Beyonce in 2008, and has also made a name for herself abroad by recently appearing in the series Queer Eye on Netflix. Actress, model and influencer, she is also active in promoting clothing and cosmetic brands.
The new controversy comes shortly after Mrs. Hashimoto takes office, replacing Yoshiro Mori, who was forced to resign in February after announcing that the women spoke a lot at meetings, which he found “upsetting”.
The scandals come as organizers are already battling Japanese public’s doubts about hosting the Games this year due to the pandemic, and days before an official decision is made on whether or not foreign spectators will attend the event.
Olympic officials are expected to announce the ban on foreign audiences next week, according to the Japanese press.
Organizers insist the games can take place despite health restrictions, and have issued a strict set of rules that they say will ensure a “safe environment”.
The Olympic torch relay is scheduled to begin on March 25 in Japan. The organizers prevented the spectators from attending the beginning ceremony and part of the first stage. The crowd will be allowed to hold the rest of the session, but cheers and crowds will be banned and the wearing of a mask will be mandatory.