Tokyo Olympics chief resigns after proposing plus-size body-positivity comedian Naomi Watanabe as an ‘Olympig’ for the 2020 Games

18 Mar, 2021 11:58

The creative boss of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Hiroshi Sasaki, has resigned after making controversial remarks about hugely popular Japanese entertainer Naomi Watanabe, suggesting that she could appear as an 'Olympig'.

Sasaki, who was the chief creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics, said Watanabe could be asked to wear pig ears at the Games curtain-raiser.

He raised the idea last year in a group chat, but his suggestion was immediately rejected by his colleagues involved in the Olympics preparation process.

Weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported Sasaki’s remarks on Wednesday, prompting the official to immediately resign from his post.

He apologized and admitted his comments were “a huge insult” to Watanabe, who is a well-known body-positivity advocate.

There was a very inappropriate expression in my ideas and remarks,” Sasaki said in a statement.

I sincerely apologize to her and people who have felt discomfort.”

On being informed of Sasaki’s resignation on Wednesday evening, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said she planned to address the matter at a news conference later this week.

Watanabe is a comedian, actress and fashion designer who actively promotes body positivity to her fanbase, which includes more than 9.3 million followers on Instagram. In 2014, she launched one of Japan’s first brands to offer plus-size clothing.

According to the magazine, Sasaki had raised the prospect of Watanabe descending from the sky. "I thought she would look charming," he was quoted as saying, via translation. "But on the spot I was scolded by the male staff. I regret it."

Tomoki Kunieda, an associate professor at Sophia University who specializes in international PR theory, said: "The analogy of a person to an animal is an expression that carries the risk of discrimination.

"The idea of ​​respecting various body shapes, such as the 'plus-size model', is spreading overseas.

"Comparing a woman to a pig in a setting such as the Olympics can lead to the anger of the world [and a perception] that Japan is still discriminatory."

Sasaki’s resignation comes less than a month after Yoshiro Mori stepped down from his role as president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee for saying women talked too much.

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