Sexism row erupts over Tokyo Olympic official's 'pig' remark

Andrew Reid
·3-min read
Pictured here, former Olympic official Hiroshi Sasaki and Japanese celebrity Naomi Watanabe.
Tokyo Olympics creative director Hiroshi Sasaki resigns after making nasty comments about Japanese celebrity Naomi Watanabe. Pic: Getty/Instagram

The creative director for Tokyo's Olympic ceremonies has been forced to step down after ugly comments he made about a female comedian sparked a sexism storm.

Hiroshi Sasaki caused outrage after suggesting popular Japanese comedian and plus-size model, Naomi Watanabe, should appear as a pig at the opening ceremony.

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It comes just weeks after the Games' chief Yoshiro Mori stepped down over insulting remarks about women.

Sasaki decided to resign after a report this week revealed his proposal that Watanabe appear as an "Olympig" wearing pig ears at the opening ceremony.

In a statement released early Thursday, Sasaki apologised to Watanabe and said he understood his suggestion was inappropriate.

"My idea would be a huge insult to Ms. Naomi Watanabe. This can't be taken back," he said.

"I regret this from the bottom of my heart, and I deeply apologise to her and everyone who felt discomfort over this," he added.

Watanabe, in a statement issued through her agency, said she was "surprised" by the remarks but comfortable in her own body.

Seen here, popular Japanese celebrity Naomi Watanabe.
Naomi Watanabe is a popular comedian and plus-size model in Japan. Pic: Instagram.

"I'm happy with my body shape," she added, calling for a world where "individuals can respect" each other.

Tokyo Olympic chief Seiko Hashimoto, who replaced Mori last month, told reporters she was "shocked" by Sasaki's remarks.

"To joke about appearance is very, very inappropriate," Hashimoto said, adding she would work to find a replacement for Sasaki quickly.

The scandal erupted on Wednesday evening, when a local magazine reported that Sasaki suggested to colleagues last year that Watanabe could dress up as an "Olympig".

The proposal, made in a group chat, was immediately rejected by Sasaki's colleagues, who told him it was inappropriate.

Sasaki was initially appointed to take charge of the Paralympics opening and closing ceremonies, but became creative director for the Olympic extravaganzas in December.

Watanabe is a feted celebrity in Japan, and is known to international fans in part thanks to an appearance on the makeover show "Queer Eye".

The comedian and model, who fronts campaigns for products from clothing to skincare, has more than nine million followers on Instagram.

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She is one of the few prominent plus-size figures among Japan's celebrities, and has faced insults in the past.

The incident comes at a sensitive time for the Games after the firestorm that erupted when former Tokyo 2020 chief Mori said women speak too much in meetings.

Mori eventually stepped down, with former Olympic minister Hashimoto appointed his successor, but the scandal was damaging for organisers, who have now moved to improve the gender balance on their board.

Hashimoto said she had spoken to the International Olympic Committee after the story broke yesterday and that they were "quite concerned".

"This kind of problem should never have happened," she added.

Japan's government also weighed in on the row, with deputy spokesman Naoki Okada calling Sasaki's suggestion "completely inappropriate".

It is the latest in a series of public-relations setbacks for the Olympics, including a plagiarism row over the Games' original logo and anger over a $2 billion design for the main stadium, which was later scaled back.

The Olympic torch relay is due to kick off on March 25, though spectators are barred from the launch ceremony and first leg, with those lining the route elsewhere banned from cheering and crowding, and required to wear masks.

with AFP

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