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Antoine Griezmann loses sponsor amid Japan racism row

The controversy also involves Barcelona striker and teammate Ousmane Dembele.

Antoine Griezmann (file pic).
Antoine Griezmann (file pic).
Image: Marko Djurica

Updated at 23.59

JAPANESE VIDEO games firm Konami said Wednesday it was dropping French striker Antoine Griezmann as a brand ambassador over a racism row involving the Barcelona striker and teammate Ousmane Dembele.

“Previously we had announced Antoine Griezmann as our Yu-Gi-Oh! contents ambassador, however in light of recent events we have decided to cancel the contract,” the firm said in a statement alluding to a manga gaming series.

“Konami Digital Entertainment believes, as is the philosophy of sports, that discrimination of any kind is unacceptable,” the company stressed, adding it would be asking Barcelona “as a club partner to explain the details of this case and its future actions.”

Dembele had to apologise earlier this week for making racist comments in a video circulating on social media.

Dembele, 24, offered his “sincere apologies” on Monday after a 42-second clip, which he appeared to have made on Snapchat in 2019, was leaked and widely shared on the internet.

The clip shows Dembele, on Barca’s pre-season tour of Japan two years ago, talking to team-mate Griezmann as he waited for local technicians to connect a game console to a television in their hotel room.

Dembele refers to “ugly faces” as the technicians work and appears to mock the Japanese language before asking: “are you advanced in your country or not?”

In a Wednesday statement, Barcelona said the club “deeply regret” how two of its players “displayed a lack of respect in their attitude towards several employees in the hotel in which they were staying.

“This attitude in no way coincides with the values that FC Barcelona represents and defends,” the statement continued, adding that “at FC Barcelona there is no place for racism or discrimination.”

Offering a public apology the club warned it  reserved “the right to take the internal measures that it considers appropriate.”

Hiroshi Mikitani, the chief executive officer of Barcelona’s main shirt sponsor, Japanese electronics company Rakuten, said on Tuesday he wants an explanation from the club over the affair.

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“As a sponsor of the club and the host of the tour, I very much regret the FCB players’ discriminative remarks,” Mikatini tweeted, saying the remarks were unacceptable.

Since 2017, Rakuten has paid €55 million a year to appear on the front of Barca’s jersey. They have extended their deal to next season.

Dembele, who is recovering from surgery after injuring his knee in France’s second group game at Euro 2020, said on Monday that he regretted the incident and offered “sincere apologies.”

Griezmann was in hot water three years ago for appearing wearing blackface and dressed as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters for a party. He said Monday he had always opposed “all forms of discrimination” and apologised “if I offended my Japanese friends”.

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AFP

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