A New Zealand television presenter has publicly apologized for using a mock accent when referring to Japanese international Kazuki Himeno after his Otago Highlanders beat the Canterbury Crusaders in their Super Rugby Aotearoa match on Friday.
Joe Wheeler, a former Highlanders player who also played for Suntory Sungoliath in the Top League in Japan, was discussing Himeno’s performance in the Highlanders’ shock 33-12 win over the competition leaders, calling it “really, really impressive,” but mispronouncing the r’s.
He put on the accent while talking about the player on Sky Sport NZ, which drew sharp criticism on social media, with people describing it as “disgusting,” “disgraceful” and “plain dumb.”
“What an immature, racist idiot. Sky surely has to get rid of him,” correspondent Wayne Hay wrote on Twitter.
Wheeler later tweeted that he had met with Himeno and apologized to him.
“Tonight I stuffed up! I’ve spoken with @teikyo_8 and apologised to him and the @Highlanders and our Sky crew,” Wheeler wrote. “I absolutely accept this is not the standard expected of the sideline team. I’ve got some work to do obviously, but I’m absolutely committed to doing better.”
Himeno replied to the tweet saying that he accepted the apology.
“It’s ok joe. Let’s enjoy and celebrate our big victory,” the 17-Test loose forward said.
Sky NZ’s chief executive Sophie Moloney said that Wheeler’s comments were “very disappointing.”
“They are not who we are at Sky, and we need to do better,” Moloney said in a statement.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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