TOKYO—The creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies for the Tokyo Olympics resigned after confirming that he had floated the idea of putting a female celebrity in a pig costume during the opening ceremony.
The resignation casts a new shadow over the Games just four months before they are due to begin following the recent decision by the head of the event’s organizing committee to step down after making sexist remarks.
Hiroshi Sasaki, who was named head of ceremonies in December for the Olympics, said in a statement that in March 2020 he made what he described as a joking suggestion to colleagues in an online chat forum. He said he proposed dressing up Naomi Watanabe in a pink costume and calling her an “Olympig” during the opening ceremony.
Mr. Sasaki, who directed the flag handover ceremony at the 2016 Rio Olympics in which then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared in a Super Mario costume, said he realized the idea was inappropriate when his colleagues immediately criticized it.
“I deeply apologize to Ms. Watanabe and all those whom I have upset,” Mr. Sasaki said in the statement.
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said she spoke to Mr. Sasaki and had accepted his resignation.
Mr. Sasaki’s proposal for the pig costume was first reported by a Japanese weekly magazine a day earlier.
Ms. Watanabe said in a statement that her initial reaction was surprise because she had been asked to appear in the ceremony last summer but hadn’t heard anything after the Games was postponed by a year. She said she was happy with her body shape but recognized it sometimes makes her the subject of ridicule.
“I hope that we can all accept and respect each others’ individual traits and views to make the world a happy and bountiful place,” she said.
Ms. Hashimoto has tried to boost the role of women in the Olympics in response to the departure of her predecessor. The Tokyo organizing committee has added more women to its executive board and created a committee on gender equality.
“When I became the Tokyo 2020 president, I made gender equality one of our key initiatives to restore everyone’s trust. I have been striving to carry this out and this kind of problem should never have happened,” Ms. Hashimoto said. She said the organizers would aim to quickly appoint a replacement for Mr. Sasaki.
Mr. Sasaki succeeded the previous creative director of the Olympic ceremonies in December as part of a move to simplify the events and make them safer during the pandemic. The opening and closing ceremonies are usually elaborate events featuring many performers and athletes.
Mr. Sasaki was already the creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies for the Paralympics, which follow the Olympics.
The organizers of the Olympics are also facing headwinds from a rise in coronavirus cases in Japan in recent days and a slow rollout of vaccinations. Japan has so far vaccinated only medical workers. The Olympic organizers say they will have sufficient testing and social distancing measures in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 during the Games.
Organizers are set to announce next week whether Japan will permit spectators from overseas to attend the Games. The traditional Olympic torch relay around Japan begins March 25.
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