Tokyo 2020 is scrambling to modify the Olympic opening ceremony just three days before it takes place after composer Keigo Oyamada resigned following an uproar over past comments about bullying disabled classmates in his youth.
After initially suggesting that it wanted to keep Oyamada in place, organisers reversed course, accepting his resignation and scrapping the four-minute score he wrote for the opening ceremony on Friday.
The last-minute decision showed the desperation of Tokyo 2020 organisers to appease public opinion as a series of scandals plagued the games in the final days before the competition starts.
But the decision to remove Oyamada’s composition sparked a “planning nightmare”, said a person closely connected to Tokyo 2020. Initial debate focused on whether to substitute an entirely new piece of music into the gap or add about 30 seconds to all the other segments of the show — an even more complex proposal.
“In either scenario, you are asking a lot of the planners at the last minute. Not to mention the performers,” said the person.
A 1994 interview with Oyamada, in which the composer known as “Cornelius” boasted about humiliating and bullying a disabled student while in school, resurfaced on social media over the weekend.
“In light of his sincere apology, we expressed a willingness to allow Mr Oyamada to continue his work on preparations in the short time remaining before the opening ceremony,” said Tokyo 2020. “However, we have come to believe that this decision was wrong, and we have decided to accept his resignation.”
Oyamada’s departure came as the number of Covid-19 cases linked to the games rose to 71, with mounting fears that absences will affect the sporting competition.
The nine new cases announced on Tuesday included an athlete resident of the Olympic Village, increasing the number of cases there to three, as well as an official from abroad, six contractors and one volunteer.
Organisers said 18 people were regarded as close contacts of the South African footballers who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier week. South Africa is scheduled to play Japan in a first-round match on Thursday.
Tokyo 2020 is also under pressure after the arrest of an Olympic staff member from Uzbekistan on allegations of serious sexual assault; the disappearance of a Ugandan weightlifter, who left a note saying he wanted to find work in the country; and Toyota’s decision not to run Olympic-themed advertisements in Japan.
As infections began to rise last month and public opposition to the games remained high, Japanese sponsors who had previously paid as much as $100m for the right to tie their brands to the Olympics hired consultants to ascertain whether the association would actually have a negative effect.
Toyota’s decision not to run explicitly Olympic-themed adverts was described by senior executives of two other sponsors as highly influential, making it much easier for them to do the same.
Mitsui Fudosan, the real estate company that led development of the Olympic Village, has begun running adverts based around images of sport, but that carefully make no reference to the games.
Panasonic, a global Olympics sponsor until 2024, said it would continue using the Olympic logo in its television adverts but that it had no plans to broadcast commercials tied specifically to the Tokyo 2020 games.
Nomura, the Japanese bank, has continued to run an advert that closes on an image of the Olympic rings next to the national stadium.
Additional reporting by Kana Inagaki in Tokyo