Soccer-Konami drops Griezmann as ambassador after Barca forward mocked hotel staff in Japan

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(Reuters) -Barcelona's sponsor Konami dropped Antoine Griezmann as an ambassador on Wednesday after a video where the French forward and team mate Ousmane Dembele mocked hotel staff in Japan surfaced online this week.

The video, recorded by Dembele during Barcelona's pre-season tour of Japan ahead of the 2019-20 season, was leaked on social media and showed both players laughing at a group of hotel staff who were working to fix a television.

Konami, popular for creating the video game Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), said it was cancelling its contract with Griezmann just a month after he was signed as an ambassador, saying discrimination of any kind was unacceptable.

"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," it said in a statement https://www.konami.com/games/corporate/en/news/release/20210707.

"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."

Hiroshi Mikitani, chief executive of Japanese e-commerce group Rakuten Inc, who are Barcelona's shirt sponsors, had also said he was disappointed with the pair's "unacceptable" comments.

"As Rakuten has endorsed Barca's philosophy and sponsored the club, we find such comments unacceptable under any circumstance. We officially protest and seek the view of the club," Mikitani wrote on Twitter.

Dembele and Griezmann have since apologised for the video but denied their comments were racist.

"I was... not targeting any community. I just happened to use this type of expression with my friends regardless of their origins," Dembele wrote on Instagram.

"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 apologise to them."

Griezmann said he was "completely against all forms of discrimination".

"For the past few days, certain people have wanted to paint me as someone that I am not," he said on Twitter. "I firmly refute the accusations made against me and I'm sorry if I have offended any of my Japanese friends."

Barcelona said the pair "displayed a lack of respect in their attitude towards several employees in the hotel".

"Barcelona would like to apologise publicly to all the club's fans and partners who feel unhappy about this event," the club said.

"The players have already shown their regret and have apologised to Japanese fans and partners... Nevertheless, Barcelona reserve the right to take the internal measures that it considers appropriate."

Griezmann and Dembele recently featured for France at Euro 2020, where the world champions were knocked out by Switzerland in the last-16 after a penalty shootout.

(Reporting by Manasi Pathak and Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis)

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