Video game company Konami has ended its sponsorship of France and Barcelona star Antoine Griezmann after he and teammate Ousmane Dembele were accused of racism in footage leaked online.
Griezmann and Dembele were accused of mocking Asians after clips recently emerged from a pre-season tour of Japan ahead of the 2019-20 season.
In one clip, Griezmann is seen laughing as Dembele appears to insult a group of men sent to their hotel room to fix their television, while in another video Griezmann is accused of using the phrase “ching chong” towards the camera while in an ice bath.
❗️Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé, in leaked video, appear to be mocking asian technicians in their hotel room who came to fix a technological issue, proceed to mock their looks, language and country's supposed "technological advance". pic.twitter.com/9fiBtyZxej
— +Barça (@plusbarca_) July 3, 2021
does he know the history of "ching chong"? pic.twitter.com/6OcIeP6ZUz
— m (@DioMeetsWorld) July 5, 2021
Japanese entertainment company Konami has now said it is ending its relationship with Griezmann, who had been an ambassador for its ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ series.
“Konami Digital Entertainment believes, as is the philosophy of sports, that discrimination of any kind is unacceptable,” the company said.
“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.”
As the creators of the popular Pro Evolution Soccer video game franchise, Konami has also been partners with Barcelona since 2016.
The company called on the Catalans to explain the incidents involving their two French internationals Griezmann and Dembele.
“With regard to our eFootball PES franchise, we will be requesting FC Barcelona as a club partner to explain the details of this case and its future actions,” added the statement.
Similar concern has been voiced by Japanese electronics giant Rakuten, which is the Barcelona shirt sponsor.
Rakuten chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani called the footballers’ actions “unacceptable” and likewise said it would seek answers from Barcelona.
“As a club sponsor and tour organizer, I am very sorry that the FCB players made discriminatory remarks,” Mikitani tweeted.
“Since Rakuten has endorsed Barca’s philosophy and sponsored the club, such statements are unacceptable under any circumstances and will formally protest the club and seek their views.”
Griezmann, 30, and Dembele, 24, have both apologized for the clip, which emerged in the wake of France’s disappointing exit to Switzerland in the last 16 of Euro 2020 last month.
“I have always been committed against any form of discrimination. For the past few days, some people have wanted to pass me off as the man I am not,” Griezmann said on social media.
“I firmly refute the accusations made against me and I am sorry if I could offend my Japanese friends.”
Je me suis toujours engagé contre toute forme de discrimination. Depuis quelques jours certaines personnes veulent me faire passer pour l’homme que je ne suis pas. Je réfute avec fermeté les accusations qui me sont portées et je suis désolé si j’ai pu offenser mes amis japonais.
— Antoine Griezmann (@AntoGriezmann) July 5, 2021
Dembele added a similar message of apology, writing: “It all took place in Japan. It could’ve taken place anywhere on the planet and I would’ve used the same expression.
“I was therefore not targeting any community. I just happened to use this type of expression with my friends regardless of their origins.
“This video has since been made public. I appreciate therefore that it could’ve hurt the people present in these images. Because of this, I would like to sincerely apologize to them.”
However, that does not appear to have closed the matter, as some fans demanded that the pair should “never come to Asia again.”
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Barcelona are yet to formally respond to the video, but the sponsorship fallout is the last thing the cash-strapped club need as they grapple with debts reportedly exceeding €1 billion ($1.18 billion).
Griezmann and Dembele – the latter of whom was forced out of Euro 2020 early with a knee injury – are both players who have been linked with a Barca exit as the club eye a potential fire sale to free up space on the books.
Most crucially, the Nou Camp giants will want to ensure they have the requisite funds to re-sign Lionel Messi, whose contract formally ended last month.