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Tokyo Olympics ceremonies chief quits over comedian insult

March 18, 2021

Hiroshi Sasaki announced his resignation after a report came out that he had insulted plus size female comedian Naomi Watanabe. He suggested she could appear at the opening ceremony as a pig.

Hiroshi Sasaki soeaks dyring a press conference in 2018.  (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)
Sasaki made derogatory comments about plus size female comedian Naomi WatanabeImage: Kazuhiro/Nogi/AFP

The creative director for Tokyo Olympics ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki will be resigning, after making derogatory comments about a female comedian.

Sasaki announced his decision after a report that came out on Wednesday said he had proposed that popular plus size entertainer Naomi Watanabe, appear at the opening ceremony as a pig.

Comment from last year

"I regret this from the bottom of my heart, and I deeply apologize to her and everyone who felt discomfort over this," he said. He said he had spoken to Tokyo Olympic chief Seiko Hashimoto late on Wednesday to inform her that he would be stepping down.

Hashimoto expressed surprise over this event and said she accepted his resignation. "It should have never happened. That's how I communicated with him," she said at a news conference on Thursday. 

A spokesperson for the Japanese government, Naoki Okada, said that Sasaki's comments were "totally inappropriate."

A local magazine, Shukan Bunshun, reported that Sasaki had made the suggestion last year, saying that Watanabe should appear as an "Olympig" wearing pig ears. It was made in a group chat, where his colleagues told him it was inappropriate. 

Japan Olympische Spiele Tokio Naomi Watanabe
Naomi Watanabe is one of the celebrities who has been helping to promote the GamesImage: Kyodo News/AP Photo/picture alliance

Sasaki was a key figure in various ceremonies associated with the Olympics, and was initially in charge of the Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies. Last December, he was named as the creative director of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.

Tokyo Olympics scandals

This news comes not long after former Olympic chief Yoshiro Mori stepped down after making sexist comments that women talk too much. Organizers are also facing skepticism over holding the Games this year, postponed from last year due to the pandemic. 

An announcement is expected next week that overseas spectators will be barred. Limits on local spectators are yet to be decided. 

The Olympic torch relay is due to kick off on March 25. Spectators have been barred from attending the launch ceremony and first leg. Those lining the route on other spots will be told to wear masks. 

tg/msh (AFP, AP)