As we draw closer to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics scheduled for this summer, discriminatory remarks and actions by figures connected to the games have bubbled to the surface.
Hiroshi Sasaki, until recently the creative director for the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, apparently proposed a role in the festivities for popular entertainer Naomi Watanabe that made fun of her physical appearance. He made the suggestion during a back and forth with members of the ceremony team on the free messaging app Line, triggering a barrage of contrary opinion, including that it demeaned women. The idea was soon withdrawn.
All this happened in March 2020, but it was uncovered last week by weekly magazine reporting, and Sasaki subsequently resigned from his post.
Ridiculing someone's physical appearance is termed "lookism," and it is a type of discrimination. It is obvious that he lacked human rights awareness. In an apology letter, Sasaki stated that he had "got carried away, and suggested the idea." Seen from another angle, if he was completely unaware that his idea was discriminatory, then the problem reveals itself as very serious indeed.
One of the Tokyo Games' stated "three core concepts" is "unity in diversity." Along with highlighting the magnificence of the Olympics and Paralympics, the opening and closing ceremonies are a chance to broadcast Japan's values to the world. It is impossible to conclude that Sasaki understood this.
Sasaki built his career at advertising giant Dentsu Inc., and worked on former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's appearance as Nintendo game character Super Mario at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics closing ceremony.
Even before all this, there had been whispers of discontent within the Tokyo 2020 ceremonies' planning team over the group's leadership. The first overall team head was Mansai Nomura, a well-known "kyogen" stage actor. However, his team dissolved in December last year, and Sasaki was brought in to replace him.
It may be very difficult to make extensive changes to the ceremony plans with just four months left before the games' scheduled opening. However, the ceremonies' structure must be overhauled to reflect the principles of the Olympics and Paralympics.
The Sasaki storm came just weeks after Yoshiro Mori was forced to resign as head of the Tokyo Games organizing committee over contemptuous comments about women.
After Sasaki's demeaning proposal came out, Watanabe stated, "I wish dearly for a fun and lively world where many kinds of character and thinking are respected, and mutual recognition prevails." In these words, we can see the very attitudes that the Tokyo Games should be embracing.
As free movement continues to be restricted by the coronavirus pandemic, how should we build human connections? That is the question being posed for the very essence of the games.