Sky Sports commentator Joe Wheeler with Highlanders player Mitchell Hunt. Source / Sky Sports
Sky Sports commentator and former rugby player Joe Wheeler (Ngāi Tahu) has apologised after mocking Japanese player Kazuki Himeno in a live television broadcast after the Highlanders shock 33-12 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday night.
In a post-match interview with Highlanders first five-eighth Mitchell Hunt, Wheeler adopted a mock Asian accent as he described the Highlanders flanker Himeno's all-round game - switching out the 'r' in really for an 'l'.
"He was really impressive wasn't he? He was really, really good."
"Heard and winced at the Joe Wheeler quip live," Pacific correspondent Koro Vaka'uta (Te Rarawa, Tonga) tweeted in response.
"[A]s someone mentioned more than a bit outta touch and considering the othering of Asians not just historically but currently materialising violently in the pandemic age...plain dumb really. (And not funny.)".
— Koro Vaka'uta (@The_KorOcle) April 2, 2021
"Please tell me Joe Wheeler didn’t just make a [f... ing] awful Asian accent joke when talking about Kazuki Himeno," rugby writer Jamie Wall (Te Rarawa) tweeted.
Please tell me Joe Wheeler didn’t just make a fucking awful Asian accent joke when talking about Kazuki Himeno... pic.twitter.com/OTQRihkFam— Jamie Wall (@JamieWall2) April 2, 2021
The former Highlanders, Crusaders and Māori All Black player, apologised publically and offered a personal apology to Himeno.
"Tonight I stuffed up! I've spoken with @teikyo_8 (Kazuki Himeno) and apologised to him and the @Highlanders and our Sky crew," said Wheeler.
"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."
Tonight I stuffed up! I've spoken with @teikyo_8 (Kazuki Himeno) and apologised to him and the @Highlanders and our Sky crew.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.— Joey Wheeler (@joey_wheelz) April 2, 2021
In a statement to the NZ Herald, Sky Sports said it was "committed to being culturally respectful" and that Wheeler's conduct was not up to standard.
"Joe Wheeler has spoken with Kazuki and apologised to him and to team management.
"He absolutely accepts this is not the standard expected of the broadcast team.
"Sky is committed to being culturally respectful and we expect all crew to do the right thing."