Sky Sport presenter Joe Wheeler has apologised for putting on an offensive impersonation of an Asian accent when discussing a Highlanders player on air.
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 team-mate Kazuki Himeno, who starred in the Highlanders’ 33-12 upset victory against the defending champions.
“He was leally impressive, wasn’t he? He was leally, leally good,” Wheeler said to Hunt.
Shortly after, Wheeler apologised on Twitter, where other users had described the comments as “disgraceful” and “disgusting”.
“Tonight I stuffed up,” he wrote on Friday night.
He said he had spoken to Himeno and apologised to him and the Highlanders for his conduct.
“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,” he said.
In a statement to Stuff, Sky reiterated Wheeler’s apology.
“Joe Wheeler has spoken with Kazuki and apologised to him and to team management,” the statement said.
“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.”
Also, Himeno replied to Wheeler’s tweet, saying he accepted his apology.
“It’s ok joe. Let’s enjoy and celebrate our big victory. Let’s go landers!!”
Wheeler’s apology came after his remarks attracted swift condemnation on social media.
“Poor taste at the best of times but considering how badly the Asian community are being targeted right now it’s especially disgusting,” wrote Twitter user Trina Garnett.
“Sky Sport shouldn’t even pay for his flight home, he should have to walk, that’s disgraceful,” said Twitter user Jaime Pitt-MacKay.
“That’s a straight red, no TMO required,” another commenter added.
Wheeler, 33, hung up his boots in 2020 following a 12-year professional rugby career.
The former lock played for his hometown team Tasman, 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.