Another day, another scandal for the Tokyo Olympics.

Ever since the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the organising team has been marred by scandals, the most recent being last month’s resignation of President Yoshiro Mori, for saying that women talk too much.

Now, another person in a senior role is stepping down from their post due to a derogatory remark, this time involving Naomi Watanabe.

▼ Watanabe is a Japanese comedian, plus-size fashion icon and Lady Gaga fan.

Weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun broke news of the remark on Wednesday, saying that the chief creative director for the Olympics and Paralympics opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, had suggested Watanabe appear dressed as a pig. 

▼ Watanabe was scheduled to appear at the opening ceremony and the planning team was looking for ways to make her appearance memorable.

Screenshots obtained by Shukan Bunshun showed Sasaki had made the suggestion on 5 March last year in a message to planning team members via messaging app LINE. The message contained several pig emojis.

Sasaki suggested Watanabe could descend from the sky as an “Olympig” during the opening ceremony. However, after making the proposal, members of the planning team immediately pushed back against idea, with one woman saying it wasn’t right to make such comparisons and male members saying the idea was too awful to consider.

The proposal was then withdrawn, without any news of it being made until now, one year later, when Shukan Bunshun brought the story to light. According to the magazine’s sources, the Organising Committee discussed the matter with the International Olympic Committee on 17 March, the day the scoop was published online and a day before it was published in magazine format.

When concerns were raised about Sasaki’s remark being sexist, an Organising Committee executive was quoted as saying:

“Even pig emojis are used, which leads to it being a human rights problem, and more serious than ex-chairman Mori’s situation. The IOC will not protect him.”

Sasaki then submitted his resignation to the President of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, Seiko Hashimoto, on 18 March.

Speaking to Shukan Bunshun, 66-year-old Sasaki admitted to making the inappropriate suggestion, saying:

“I tend to make a lot of bad puns and this one just slipped out of my mouth. I thought she would look charming as an “Olympig”, dressed in a pink outfit with her tongue poking out, but I was immediately scolded by male staff. I regret it.”

He has since made a formal apology:

“While exchanging ideas for the opening ceremony with my colleagues, there were very inappropriate expressions in my ideas and remarks. My eyes were immediately opened to this when staff became angry, so, deeply ashamed, I apologised and withdrew [the suggestion]. I sincerely regret and apologise for my terribly insulting, irreparable suggestion and remarks.”

Sasaki, who was initially in charge of directing the 2020 Paralympic ceremonies, became the chief executive creative director of both the Olympics and Paralympics in December last year, replacing well-known Kyogen actor Nomura Mansai. The staff shuffle was attributed to a need for more efficiency after the postponement of the Games to 2021.

Prior to his senior position on the Olympics organising committee, Sasaki had worked at controversial advertising giant Dentsu, where he produced a number of famous commercials, including the Alien Jones” series for canned coffee brand Boss, starring Hollywood actor Tommy Lee Jones, and the Shirato Family ads for telecommunications provider Softbank.

▼ The Shirato Family consists of all-human members, headed up by a white dog called “otosan” (“father”).

In 2016, Sasaki directed the flag handover at the Rio Olympics, where former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe popped out of a green pipe dressed as Super Mario.

▼ Sasaki never thought to ask Abe to dress up as an Olympig

With the Olympics torch relay due to begin on 25 March, amidst contentious withdrawals from volunteers and torch runners, and arguments over whether the Games should be held at all, the organising committee is no doubt hoping this will be the end to the long string of scandals before the scheduled start to the Games on 23 July.

As for Watanabe, she’s yet to comment on the issue, but given that the talented 33-year-old has now made the move to the U.S. to broaden her horizons, we have a feeling she’ll be unfazed by the drama, flicking her hair to the side and waving bye to Sasaki and anyone else who thinks it’s okay to suggest a woman dress as a pig for millions of viewers around the globe.

Sources: Shukan BunshunOtakomu, Hachima Kikou, NHK
Featured image: Instagram/watanabenaomi703
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