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Interpreter under fire after calling African runners "chimpanzees"

OITA (Kyodo) -- An interpreter in a recent international marathon race in Japan has come under fire after she called runners from African countries "chimpanzees" in a blog post.

The interpreter who is in her 50s apologized for choosing the words in a careless manner and closed the online post, the organizers of the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon said Friday.

The woman as a paid volunteer helped runners the organizer invited from overseas in the race which took place on Feb. 3 on a course running through Oita and Beppu in the southwestern prefecture of Oita.

The organizers invited five marathoners from Morocco, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa.

On her blog, the interpreter wrote she had difficulties communicating with the invited runners and felt as though she was "communicating with primitive men."

She called some of the runners "cute chimpanzees" in the caption of a photo of the athletes and herself.

The organizers quoted her as saying during fact-finding questioning, "I had no intention to discriminate against them and meant no offense. I'm taking a hard look at my careless use of such words."

Louis Okoye, a player for the Rakuten Eagles pro baseball in Japan and whose father is from Nigeria, reacted to the issue the same day, saying in a tweet, "The number of such people is not small. All we can do is to have patience."

"It's very regrettable that there were inappropriate use of words (in her blog)," said Beppu Deputy Mayor Hisakazu Anan, who heads the secretariat of the race.

Anan said the organizers will more carefully select volunteers and educate them in future events to make sure a similar situation does not happen again.

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