Sky Sport presenter Joe Wheeler has apologized for using an offensive imitation of an Asian accent when discussing an on-air Highlanders player.
Wheeler’s remarks came at the end of Friday night’s Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Highlanders and Crusaders in Christchurch.
He asked Mitchell Hunt about the performance of Japanese teammate Kazuki Himeno, who starred in the Highlanders’ thwarted 33-12 victory over the defending champions.
“He was really impressive, wasn’t he? He was really, really good,” Wheeler told Hunt.
Shortly after, Wheeler apologized on Twitter, where other users had called the comments “shameful” and “disgusting.”
“Tonight, I drunk,” he wrote on Friday night.
He said he spoke to Himeno and apologized to him and the Highlanders for his conduct.
“I absolutely accept that this is not the expected standard of the sideline team.
“I have work to do of course, but I am absolutely determined to do better,” he said.
In a statement to Things, Sky reiterated Wheeler’s apologies.
“Joe Wheeler spoke to Kazuki and apologized to him and the team management,” the statement read.
“He absolutely admits that this is not the standard expected of the broadcast team.
“Sky is committed to being respectful of its culture and we expect the entire crew to do the right thing.”
Additionally, Himeno responded to Wheeler’s tweet, saying he accepts his apology.
“It’s good Joe. Let’s enjoy and celebrate our great victory. Let’s go landers !!”
Wheeler’s apology came after his remarks quickly sparked condemnation on social media.
“Bad taste at best, but given how targeted the Asian community is currently, it’s particularly disgusting,” wrote Trina Garnett, a Twitter user.
“Sky Sport shouldn’t even have to pay for its flight home, it should be walking, which is shameful,” Twitter user Jaime Pitt-MacKay said.
“It’s a pure red, no TMO required,” added another commenter.
Wheeler, 33, hung up his boots in 2020 after a 12-year career in professional rugby.
The former lock played for his native Tasman team, the Crusaders, Highlanders, Māori All Blacks and Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath.
He won a Super Rugby title with the Highlanders in 2015 and last played for them in 2017.