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Olympics Live Updates: Opening Ceremony’s Creative Director Fired Over Holocaust Joke

Current time in Tokyo: July 22, 8:06 p.m.

Organizers of the Games dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the ceremony, after video footage emerged of him making fun of the Holocaust in a comedic act in the 1990s.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

TOKYO — Just a day before the opening ceremony of the delayed Tokyo Olympics, organizers of the Games dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the ceremony, after video footage emerged of him making fun of the Holocaust in a comedic act in the 1990s.

At a press briefing on Thursday, Japan’s Olympics minister, Seiko Hashimoto, sounding beleaguered after a run of scandals that have plagued the Games and the creative staff of the opening ceremony in particular, said she had learned about the routine on Wednesday. In the skit, Kobayashi joked about “massacring Jews” while miming the act of cutting up human figures made of paper. The organizing committee, she said, decided to dismiss him “immediately.”

In a statement, Kobayashi said that he had regretted the routine after he made it and “started aiming to create comedies that don’t hurt others.”

“I understand that my choice of words was wrong, and regret it,” his statement said. “I apologize to those who felt displeasure.”

The organizing committee, in a statement, said Kobayashi had “made a mockery of a painful historic fact in the past” and apologized “for having caused troubles and concerns to many stakeholders, and residents of Tokyo and Japan.”

Credit…©Tokyo 2020, via Associated Press

The swift decision to dismiss Kobayashi was in contrast to the resignation this week of Keigo Oyamada, a composer who had written music for the opening ceremony, after excerpts from interviews he had given in the 1990s confessing to severe bullying and abuse of disabled classmates surfaced on social media.

Oyamada at first apologized, and it appeared he would keep his job before a widespread campaign on social media prompted him to resign. “We should have dismissed Mr. Oyamada sooner,” Hashimoto said.

Kobayashi is the second creative director of the opening ceremony to step down. In March, Hiroshi Sasaki resigned after a magazine revealed that he had compared a popular comedian and plus-size fashion designer to a pig when proposing her participation in the ceremony. Sasaki’s resignation came just weeks after Yoshiro Mori, the former president of the Tokyo organizing committee, also resigned after making sexist comments about women.

On Twitter, some people questioned why Kobayashi was being fired for an old routine, but others said his dismissal was not sufficient. “Kentaro Kobayashi’s dismissal after the discovery of the Holocaust skit in the past is a quick measure,” wrote one poster. “But are they going to perform what this guy directed at tomorrow’s opening ceremony? Is the problem solved just because he was dismissed?”

Asked if she regretted going forward with the Games amid the unfurling scandals and rising coronavirus cases in the Olympic Village, Hashimoto acknowledged that the Tokyo organizers are “facing every single possible problem.” But, she said, “we want you to remember Tokyo for overcoming a lot of issues and having success.”

From protests and Covid-related bans on fans, join Times journalists for a virtual event as we discuss what this moment means for the Olympics. Plus learn about the sports new to the Games through interviews with U.S. surfer Carissa Moore, skateboarders Zion Wright and Jordyn Barratt, and Czech climber Adam Ondra. Click the button above to R.S.V.P.

Paul Bernardoni of France makes a save during the game against Mexico.
Credit…Dan Mullan/Getty Images

CHOFU, Japan — Mexico, the 2012 Olympic men’s soccer gold medalist, opened its campaign to regain that title by thrashing France, 4-1, on Thursday at Tokyo Stadium.

Alexis Vega scored on a first-half header and Sebastian Cordova, Uriel Antuna and Erick Aguirre added goals after halftime as Mexico outclassed a French team featuring two stars from Mexico’s Liga MX.

One of them, André-Pierre Gignac, scored on a penalty kick in the 69th minute after Randal Kolo Muani was scythed down in the Mexican box.

Gignac, a 35-year-old striker who has played more than 200 matches since 2015 for the Mexican club Tigres, is playing in the Olympics as one of France’s three overage players. On Thursday, he was a brooding, vocal but poorly supplied presence, chatting with the Mexico players in Spanish, challenging his teammates in French and, at one point, excoriating the Australian referee for a perceived injustice in English.

“This will be a special game for me because my sons are Mexican so I’m excited about it,” he had told reporters this week. In the end, it was one he probably would like to forget quickly; his team can still advance with better performances against South Africa and host Japan in its next two group games.

Mexico’s thumping of France, a country known for its strong youth teams, was not Thursday’s only surprise: Spain, which had called in a handful of players from the senior team that advanced to the European Championship semifinals only two few weeks ago, was held to a scoreless tie by a defensive-minded Egypt in Sapporo.

Monica Abbott celebrated with teammates during the U.S. win.
Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

United States

TOKYO — Behind the powerful left arm of Monica Abbott, the top-ranked United States softball team sneaked by third-ranked Canada, 1-0, on Thursday at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium.

Abbott tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing just one hit, walking three and striking out nine. The day before, her fellow American ace Cat Osterman tossed six scoreless innings and struck out nine while surrendering just one hit to Italy. Abbott came in for the final inning to secure the 2-0 win.

So in two games, Osterman, 38, and Abbott, 35 — who both played in the last Olympic softball tournament, in 2008 — have combined to allow just two hits, give up three walks and strike out a whopping 21 batters.

Pumping 70-mile-an-hour fastballs, Abbott vexed Canada’s offense all game on Thursday. And when she did cough up a hit in the sixth inning, her teammates came to the rescue.

With a runner on first base, Canada’s starting pitcher, Sara Groenewegen, smacked a double into the right-center field gap. But center fielder Haylie McCleney chased down the ball and fired it to second baseman Ali Aguilar, who relayed it to catcher Aubree Munro in time to nab a sliding Joey Lye at home.

The defensive play preserved Abbott’s gem, and Ken Eriksen, the team’s head coach, stuck with her for the final inning.

On offense, the U.S. threatened with base runners throughout the game but struggled again to convert its chances. Its lone run came in the fifth inning, when McCleney reached on a one-out single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Janie Reed.

Facing Jenna Caira, Amanda Chidester slapped a ball to right field for a single that scored McCleney. Standing at first base, Chidester pumped her arms and shouted toward her teammates.

No softball games are scheduled for Friday as the tournament shifts to Yokohama Baseball Stadium, closer to Tokyo. The U.S. will next play on Saturday, facing Mexico. After each team plays five games, the top two teams in the six-team field advance to the gold medal game.

The U.S. women’s soccer team after its 3-0 loss to Sweden on Wednesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

TOKYO — The U.S. women’s soccer team arrived at the Olympics full of confidence, riding a two-year unbeaten streak. It woke up Thursday morning wondering how everything had gone so wrong in its opening game, a 3-0 defeat against Sweden.

“I don’t even know how many goals we have given up this whole year,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. (The answer is one, in 12 matches.)

“I don’t remember the last time we gave up a goal,” she added. “So to give up three is not great.”

What happens now? The good news for the United States, as several veteran players pointed out on Wednesday night, is that all is not lost. The team will move on quickly to its next two group-stage games, against New Zealand on Saturday and Australia on Tuesday.

Better efforts in those will ensure a place among the eight teams that advance to the medal round, a knockout stage where fitness, experience and talent can make even a disturbing stumble a distant memory.

Trouble could lurk after that: The runner-up in the Americans’ group would play the winner of the group that includes the Netherlands (which hung 10 goals on Zambia on Wednesday) or Brazil (and the former United States coach Pia Sundhage). But those are worries for next week.

“We put ourselves in a big hole,” U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “But we are the only ones who can get ourselves out of it.”

For the moment, the U.S. players, speaking with either sage wisdom or wishful thinking, are preaching patience.

“We weren’t going to breeze through six games no matter what,” forward Christen Press said. “So here we are.”

Rapinoe, after watching Wednesday’s implosion, seemed to speak to her team, its fans and everyone else preaching doom when she said, “You want to put a mirror in front of everyone and say: ‘Relax. We’re good.’”

By next week, everyone will find out if she is right.

Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of the Australian state of Queensland, during a news conference Wednesday in Tokyo.
Credit…Franck Robichon/EPA, via Shutterstock

The male Australian Olympic official who secured the 2032 games for his country rebuked a leading female politician and insisted that she attend the opening ceremony in Tokyo, prompting disbelief and outrage in Australia.

The awkward exchange occurred in front of television cameras on Wednesday night at a news conference after Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, was confirmed as the host of the 2032 Games.

John Coates, the president of the Australian Olympic Committee, told Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of Queensland, that she could not spend her time “hiding” in her room.

Palaszczuk, 51, had traveled to Japan to secure the bid and drawn criticism at home, because most Australians are unable to leave or return to the country because of coronavirus border restrictions. She had previously promised not to attend any Tokyo Olympics events.

Coates, 71, took issue with that, telling her at the news conference: “You are going to the opening ceremony. I am still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group. So far as I understand, there will be an opening and a closing ceremony in 2032.”

He extended his insistence to other Queensland politicians who had come with Palaszczuk, and said: “All of you are going to get along there and understand the traditional parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony, so none of you are staying behind and hiding in your rooms, all right?”

Palaszczuk declined to say why she would not attend the ceremony. Coates, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, pressed her, saying, “You’ve never been to an opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, have you?”

After Palaszczuk shook her head, Coates continued to insist: “You don’t know the protocols.” Because Olympic opening ceremonies are a major responsibility for organizers and cost $75 million to $100 million to put on, Coates said, “it’s my very strong recommendation” that Palaszczuk and other officials attend.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday morning, Palaszczuk downplayed the exchange, saying that Brisbane was “now a part of the I.O.C. family, and I’m just going to do what John Coates said.”

She added that Brisbane would not have been selected as 2032 host “if we didn’t have John Coates.” But when asked directly whether she would attend Friday’s opening ceremony, she said she did not want to offend the I.O.C. or the Japanese government, and said, “I’ll let them sort that out.”

Asked in an interview on Thursday morning whether he had “overruled” Palaszczuk, Coates chuckled and said: “Yes, I did do that.” Hours later, he released a statement saying that Palaszczuk would attend the ceremony but that it “has always been her choice,” and that his comments at the news conference had been “completely misrepresented.”

The exchange drew outrage in Australia, with online commentators labeling Coates’s behavior “appalling” and “arrogant” and asserting that he would not have made the same comments to a male premier.

Leigh Russell, a former chief executive of Swimming Australia, wrote on Twitter: “This is disgusting. And yet another example of how women are treated in sport.”

“What a condescending, patronizing man,” Jane Caro, a feminist commentator, tweeted. “How dare he tick off the Premier of Queensland publicly as if she was a naughty schoolgirl?”

The Australian Olympic Committee did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Many Tokyoites seemed eager to leave the city before the start of an Olympics that have been essentially closed to the public because of coronavirus restrictions.
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

TOKYO — For many, seeing an Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games, some residents couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

Roads out of the city were jammed on Thursday morning, and people packed onto flights to popular vacation destinations. Many Tokyoites seemed eager to leave before the start of a Games that have been essentially closed to the public because of tight restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

The opening ceremony on Friday will have an audience of only 950 people in a stadium that was built for the Olympics and able to hold 68,000. Spectators are barred from nearly all competitions, a vast majority of which will be held in Tokyo.

There are not many other reasons to stay in Tokyo at the moment: The weather is scorching, with temperatures in the 90s and humidity at over 50 percent. The city has been under a state of emergency for weeks in an effort to curb a surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the contagious Delta variant. Most restaurants and bars close at 8 p.m. And road closures for the Games have backed up traffic on some streets in the city center.

Highways outside Tokyo were gridlocked for miles on Thursday. Flights to the cooler climes of the northern island of Hokkaido, a popular summer getaway, were nearly sold out despite government requests to curb travel from the capital to stop the virus’s spread.

For those inclined to get away, the timing couldn’t be better. Before the originally scheduled start of the Games last summer, in an effort to alleviate congestion, the government changed the dates of two national holidays so that they would coincide with the opening ceremony. When the pandemic forced the postponement of the Games, the four-day holiday rolled over to 2021 — and many in Japan have been more than happy to take advantage.

Outside the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. The decision to hold events without spectators has proved divisive.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Having delayed these games by a year because of the pandemic, Tokyo organizers made some major concessions for the event to happen this year, including barring most spectators, which has proved divisive. But the steps have done little to assuage the concerns of people across Japan, where numbers of cases are rising.



Athletes who have tested positive for the coronavirus

Scientists say that positive tests are expected with daily testing programs, even among the vaccinated. Little information on severity has been released, though public reports suggest that cases among athletes have generally been mild or asymptomatic. Some athletes who have tested positive have not been publicly identified.


July 21

Candy Jacobs

Netherlands

Skateboarding

Netherlands

Pavel Sirucek

Czech Republic

Table tennis

Czech Republic

July 20

Kara Eaker

United States

Gymnastics

United States

July 19

Ondrej Perusic

Czech Republic

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

Katie Lou Samuelson

United States

Three-on-three basketball

United States

July 18

Coco Gauff

United States

Tennis

United States

Kamohelo Mahlatsi

South Africa

Soccer

South Africa

Thabiso Monyane

South Africa

Soccer

South Africa


Among athletes, officials and others working at the Games, 91 people have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday, including 10 athletes, according to New York Times reporting. That tally does not include those who tested positive before arrival in Japan. Two players on Mexico’s baseball team tested positive before the team’s scheduled departure to Tokyo, forcing the team into quarantine in Mexico City. Several players, including some from the U.S., will miss the Games after positive tests.

Nippon Budokan in Chiyoda ward in Tokyo on Sunday.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The discovery of isolated coronavirus cases, even in vaccinated athletes at the Olympics in Tokyo, is entirely expected, scientists say, and not necessarily a cause for alarm.

“This isn’t really that much of a surprise,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan.

Still, these cases do raise thorny questions about how to design testing programs — and respond to test results — at this phase of the pandemic, in which the patchy rollout of vaccines means that some people and communities are well protected from the virus while others remain at risk.

As Dr. Rasmussen put it: “When does a positive test really indicate that there’s a problem?”

Covid-19 tests, which were once profoundly limited, are now widely available in most of the developed world, making it possible for organizations — including private employers, schools, professional sports leagues and the Olympics organizers — to routinely screen people for the virus.

Vaccination is not required for Olympic participants, and officials are relying heavily on testing to keep the virus at bay in Tokyo. Those headed to the Games must submit two negative tests taken on separate days within 96 hours of leaving for Japan regardless of vaccination status, according to the Olympic playbooks, or manuals.

At least one of the two tests must be taken within 72 hours of departure. Participants are again tested upon arrival at the airport.

Athletes, coaches and officials are also required to take daily antigen tests, which are less sensitive than P.C.R. tests but are generally quicker and cheaper. (Olympic staff and volunteers may be tested less frequently, depending on their level of interaction with athletes and officials.) If a test comes back unclear or positive, a P.C.R. test is administered.

“Each layer of filtering is a reduction in the risk for everybody else,” Brian McCloskey, the chair of the Independent Expert Panel of the International Olympic Committee, told reporters this week, adding that the number of confirmed infections so far are “lower than we expected.”

Questions about transmission remain unsettled. Vaccinated people with asymptomatic or breakthrough infections may still be able to pass the virus on to others, but it is not yet clear how often that happens. Until that science is more definitive, or until vaccination rates rise, it is best to err on the side of safety and regular testing, many experts said.

But when you look that hard for infections — especially in a group of people who have recently flown in from all over the globe and have had varying levels of access to vaccines — you’re all but destined to find some.

TOKYO — It’s Thursday at the Olympic Games, or as it is officially known, “Day Negative 1.” (The opening ceremony is on Friday.)

The fire hose of sports that will start spewing on Saturday is still but a trickle, but there are several events of note.

After women’s soccer debuted on Wednesday — with a shocking upset of the United States by Sweden — men’s soccer kicks off on Thursday. The United States did not qualify for the men’s tournament, which is made up mostly of younger professionals.

The highlights of the eight games are Mexico-France in Tokyo at 5 p.m. (4 a.m. Eastern on Thursday) and Brazil-Germany in Yokohama at 8:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. Eastern on Thursday). In the 2016 Games in Rio, Brazil beat Germany in the gold medal game in a penalty shootout.

Here’s how to watch in the United States (all times Eastern):

The opening ceremony is scheduled for Friday night in Tokyo. But the time difference with Tokyo means it will be Friday morning in the United States.

NBC will have a live morning broadcast of the ceremony, starting at 6:55 a.m. Eastern time. Savannah Guthrie, the anchor for “Today,” and NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico will host the ceremony.

Similar to years past, the network will air a packaged prime-time version of the ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday.

In addition to NBC, Olympic events will be shown on the Golf Channel, NBC Olympics, NBC Sports Network, Telemundo and USA Network. Events will also be streamed on NBCOlympics.com, NBCSports.com and Peacock, the network’s streaming platform.

After the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Games will stretch across 16 days, culminating in the closing ceremony on Aug. 8.

Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos raised their gloved hands in protest at the 1968 Olympics. 
Credit…Associated Press

When the American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal stand at the Mexico City Games in 1968 to protest the oppression of Black Americans, they gave voice to generations of the athletes eager to speak their minds, even as the International Olympic Committee and athletic federations try to curtail what they consider political demonstrations.

While the U.S.O.P.C. said in December that it will no longer penalize athletes who protest, the I.O.C. reaffirmed that protests during Olympic events or the medal stand are prohibited. That rule will be tested when the Tokyo Games open on Friday, Smith said in a recent interview, because athletes everywhere have been awakened in the year since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Women’s soccer players for Britain, Chile, Sweden and the United States knelt before their games on Wednesday, which fell under a relaxed I.O.C. rule that allows for demonstrations before the start of competition.

In a wide-ranging discussion following the release of “With Drawn Arms,” a documentary about his life, Smith said it was fruitless for the I.O.C. to try to muzzle athletes.

“It’s a rational thought that there’s going to be some type of change,” he said. “I think within the next three weeks, we’re going to see some change in something. I don’t know from who. That’s why the future is so important.”

Balloons floating over the stadium at the opening of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Credit…Donald Uhrbrock/Getty Images

TOKYO — Under crisp blue skies in October 1964, Emperor Hirohito of Japan stood before a reborn nation to declare the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games. A voice that the Japanese public had first heard announcing the country’s surrender in World War II now echoed across a packed stadium alive with anticipation.

On Friday, Tokyo will inaugurate another Summer Olympics, after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hirohito’s grandson, Emperor Naruhito, will be in the stands for the opening ceremony, but it will be barred to spectators as an anxious nation grapples with yet another wave of infections.

For both Japan and the Olympic movement, the delayed 2020 Games may represent less a moment of hope for the future than the distinct possibility of decline. And to the generation of Japanese who look back fondly on the 1964 Games, the prospect of a diminished, largely unwelcome Olympics is a grave disappointment.

“Everyone in Japan was burning with excitement about the Games,” said Kazuo Inoue, 69, who vividly recalls being glued to the new color television in his family’s home in Tokyo in 1964. “That is missing, so that is a little sad.”

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are often regarded as the point when Japan pivoted into prosperity. In 2021, the country is again approaching a crossroad.

Credit…Jorge Silva/Reuters

After a 13-year absence, softball has returned to the Olympic stage, with one frustrating difference: The games are being played on baseball fields rather than ones for softball.

Fans and players alike expressed disappointment across social media this week. Among the main differences is that a softball field is smaller than a baseball field, usually with an infield entirely composed of dirt. Baseball diamonds are made of a mix of dirt and grass or artificial turf.

Others, however, are less bothered.

“I don’t care what the field looks like, we’re happy it’s back & we’ve been waiting a very long time,” Danielle O’Toole Trejo, who plays for Mexico’s national team and is also a player in the Athletes Unlimited pro league in the U.S., wrote on Twitter. “Our play WILL NOT change. We’re GOOD enough to adapt.”

In both the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games, the host cities built softball fields as part of their Olympics infrastructure.

Still, Jennie Finch, a former U.S. pitcher and Olympic gold and silver medalist, said playing on baseball fields is normal, adding that she played on baseball fields many times throughout her career.

For softball, the moment is big: It first became an Olympic sport in 1996, and it appeared in each Summer Games through 2008, after which it was dropped.

It has a growing global footprint, and in the U.S., it is a competitive collegiate sport without a major league home. Last August, softball was the inaugural sport in Athletes Unlimited, but even that season was only six weeks long.

“Our sport needs this,” Finch said in an interview this week. “It’s crucial for our sport globally to be in the Olympic Games and have our presence and have the platform to showcase how great of a game it is.”

Kang Can Young, a member of South Korea’s formidable national archery team, practices in her home country in April.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

For South Korean archers, winning Olympic gold medals feels almost like a given — they have claimed 23 of the 34 golds awarded in the sport since 1984.

It’s getting to the Games that’s tough.

Just ask Chang Hye-jin, who won two gold medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, or Ku Bon-chan, who pulled off the same feat on the men’s side. Neither champion made the cut this year.

Or ask Kim Je-deok, 17, who this spring successfully navigated the crucible of South Korea’s national team selection tournament, which gathers the country’s top 200 archers to vie for six tickets — for three men and three women — to the world’s biggest sporting event, with no regard for rankings or past performance.

“Once-in-a-lifetime luck came to me,” said Kim, who recently overcame a shoulder injury that would have kept him out of the Olympics if the event hadn’t been postponed by a year.

The South Korean archers fired thousands of arrows each over several rounds of grueling competition spread out over eight anxious months. For those who prevailed, the hard part might now be over.

The South Korean archery team has won gold medals at every Summer Olympics since 1984. The women’s team has been particularly dominant, winning gold eight straight times since the team event made its debut in 1988 in Seoul. At the 2016 Games, the men’s and women’s teams swept the gold medals in the team and individual events.

The team is famous in the archery world for the depth and detail of its preparations. National coaches employ wind machines and pump artificial noise (crowd sounds, camera shutters) through speakers to simulate adverse environmental conditions athletes might encounter in competitions.

“Our goal is zero-defect training,” said Jang Young-sool, the vice president of the Korea Archery Association.

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