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Tokyo Olympic officials apologize for failing to vet composer who resigned over past bullying

Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto attends a news conference in Tokyo on Saturday. (Franck Robichon/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

TOKYO — Top Tokyo Olympic officials apologized Tuesday for failing to vet the Opening Ceremonies’ musical composer who resigned over bullying people with disabilities — the latest controversy bedeviling the Games just days before they start.

Olympic organizers pulled Keigo Oyamada, who was to be used for both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and are now scrambling to find a replacement.

Oyamada, whose stage name is Cornelius, resigned Monday after coming under fire for bullying classmates, including forcing a child with a mental disability to eat feces and masturbate in front of other classmates. Oyamada had unapologetically described the incidents to a local magazine in the 1990s, and his interviews resurfaced after he was named composer.

“The responsibility lies with me,” Japan Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said at a news conference Tuesday. “We should have checked solidly, and we were not able to do that. … This issue has hurt so many people, and I have to offer my apology to those people, to the fact that appropriate response was delayed.”

Last week, Oyamada had issued an apology on social media: “I sincerely accept the opinions and advice I have received, express my gratitude, and will keep them in mind for my future actions and thoughts.”

Games organizers responded by saying they were not aware of his comments but that they hoped he would stay on because of the short time left until the ceremony.

But critics continued to raise concerns, launching a petition for him to step down and noting that his past is not consistent with one of the core themes of the Tokyo Games, “Unity in diversity.”

After accepting Oyamada’s resignation, organizers said their original decision to let him stay on was “wrong.”

“I will present my apology and at the same time, I have renewed my conviction that Tokyo 2020 should achieve toward diversity and harmony,” Hashimoto said.

The officials’ apology came on the heels of the resignation of another person affiliated with Olympic events.

Nobumi, the pen name of a fiction author, announced Tuesday that he resigned from his role as an organizer of the Tokyo 2020 Nippon Festival, the official festival of the Olympics celebrating Japanese culture, arts and music. Nobumi had faced online criticism over descriptions in his autobiography about how he had made his teacher drink spoiled milk when he was a student and his remarks about children with congenital diseases.

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Others have resigned in recent months over their controversial comments.

Yoshiro Mori, the former president of the Tokyo organizing committee, resigned in March after he made sexist comments that he found it “annoying” to attend meetings with women because he felt they talked too much.

The same month, Hiroshi Sasaki, the creative director for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, resigned after it emerged he had proposed a plus-size female comedian appear at the Opening Ceremonies dressed as an “Olympig.”

After Sasaki resigned, Olympic officials rushed to put together a new creative team for the ceremonies and allowed members of the team to recruit each other and vet each other’s qualifications, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said at Tuesday’s news conference. Then the team submitted a list of names to top officials, and the names were not checked individually, Muto said.

Julia Mio Inuma contributed to this report.

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