‘Don’t involve race in sports’: Japanese rage over Nike's anti-racism advert with tennis star and BLM advocate

‘Don’t involve race in sports’: Japanese rage over Nike's anti-racism advert with tennis star and BLM advocate
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2 December 2020
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© USA TODAY Sports via Reuters / Danielle Parhizkaran

A controversial advert by sports-gear giant Nike, which aimed to highlight the struggles faced by some mixed-race children in Japan, has left many Japanese unimpressed and others angry.

Nike, which sponsors biracial Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, released the two-minute clip over the weekend.

Dubbed ‘Keep Moving: Yourself, the Future,’ it shows children of mixed and non-Japanese heritage being stared-at and bullied at school for their appearance. The children overcome their difficulties, however, and find strength and confidence through sport.

Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and whose father comes from Haiti, also appears in the advert, on the screen of a biracial girl’s smartphone.

The description released with the video on YouTube says the stories shown in the clip were “based on the real-life experience of athletes.”

The video was released on Twitter and YouTube on Saturday and has reached a total of 24 million views, with 38,000 having hit the ‘thumbs down’ button on the video platform, as of Wednesday.

In fact, the anger was so much that some users had to resort to swear words to express their frustration:

“Yo, Nike. This is too much. Don’t involve f*****g race in sports. Sooo sad....,” one person wrote.

Others blamed the company for failing to grasp the Japanese mentality.

"Did you hear from local employees’ opinion? Localization is very important. Do not think from US culture. Follow the opinion from employees," one person wrote.

Another angry commenter said they “want to throw away” all of their Nike sneakers.

“I will never buy the product again. Please remember,” another wrote, while someone else promised to buy from Japanese sports company Yonex instead.

The ad proved divisive, however, as 59,000 still hit the ‘thumbs up’ button on YouTube.

Many on social media seem to agree, as they took to Twitter to point out that the issues raised in the ad are real for some people, calling the video a “wake-up call.”

“I’m half Japanese but this happens almost every time I’m on the train,” one said.

Some people defended Japanese society but admitted the situation wasn’t clear cut.

“I’ve been teaching in Japan for 11 years and have seen some Black-Japanese children who had lots of friends in school. However, I’ve also seen some Black-Japanese children get bullied.”

Unlike many other countries, Japan’s population is largely homogenous, with an estimated 98.5 percent of the population being ethnic Japanese. There is a small proportion of foreigners, mainly Koreans, Chinese, Peruvians and Brazilians.

Several mixed-race athletes have risen to prominence in Japan in recent years, however, including Osaka and NBA basketball player Rui Hachimura.

Osaka, who is the world’s number-three player according to the WTA rankings, is a vocal advocate for racial justice. She even wore masks with the names of black victims of police brutality in America at the US Open in September this year.

 

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