Kiwi commentator apologises for 'racist' accent
REACTION: A New Zealand television presenter has publicly apologised for using a mock Asian accent when referring to the Highlanders’ Japanese international Kazuki Himeno after a Super Rugby Aotearoa match on Friday.
Joe Wheeler, a former Highlander who also played for Suntory Sungoliath in the Japanese Top League, was discussing Himeno’s performance in the Highlanders’ shock 33-12 win over the competition leaders, the Crusaders.
He put on the offensive accent while talking about the player on Sky Sport NZ, and it drew sharp criticism on social media where users described them as “disgusting”, “disgraceful”, and “plain dumb”.
“What an immature, racist idiot. Sky surely has to get rid of him,” tweeted @wayne_hay.
Wheeler is likely to keep his job despite the outpouring of public criticism.
Speaking with Highlanders flyhalf Mitchell Hunt, Wheeler’s comments included calling Himeno “leally impressive,” triggering swift protests on social media.
Wheeler, who also played five times for New Zealand’s native Māori team, later tweeted that he had met with Himeno and apologised to him.
“I stuffed up! I’ve spoken with @teikyo_8 [Kazuki Himeno] 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 he accepted the apology.
“It’s ok joe. Let’s enjoy and celebrate our big victory,” the 17-Test Japanese loose forward said.
Sky NZ‘s Chief Executive Sophie Moloney said Wheeler’s comments were “very disappointing”.
“They are not who we are at Sky, and we need to do better,” she said in a statement.