This week, FC Gifu midfielder Stipe Plazibat has been involved in a bit of an affair over a post he made on Twitter. In reference to the giving of a (highly disputed) penalty against his native Croatia, Stipe took to Twitter to ask:

  • “Please tell me Japanese friends, was that a penalty? Oh my God.”

After the main part of the tweet, he used a monkey covering its ears emoticon to signify part of the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” – probably trying to suggest that the complaints will ultimately fall on deaf ears. ONE person on Twitter complained about the tweet to the JFA and to the club, suggesting that the use of monkeys in the tweet made it racist, and as a result, Stipe’s Twitter account is now offline.

First of all, let me state at the beginning: I support Stipe Plazibat 1000% here. I’ve tried to figure out if it could be perceived as racist, but I can’t. He maybe made a mistake with the monkey he used, it probably should’ve been the one with hands over his eyes, but in my mind it is 100% not racist.

Now, I said this on Twitter the other night, but I’ll repeat it here. Stipe Plazibat is ultra popular in Gifu. Firstly, he is a big reason that Gifu are still in the J.League as his performances towards the end of last dragged Gifu into 21st place and away from danger. Away from the pitch, he is a total gentleman, staying behind after training to pose for photos and to speak to the fans. Before re-signing with Gifu in the off season, he stated that although he had other offers he felt a pull towards Gifu because of the way the fans had treated him last year. In the stands at Nagaragawa there are a lot of Croatian flags, and I myself have a Croatian team shirt. The vast majority of, if not all, FC Gifu supporters stand behind Stipe on this one.

So, why Tweet at all?

This is what Stipe must be feeling like at the minute. A harmless tweet, sent in the heat of the moment has been somehow construed to be racist, by one person. The tweet has been deleted now, but lots of people replied (some apologizing for the decision, some saying it looked harsh etc). One that caught my eye was from a person (ironically, not the person who complained) who replied to Stipe’s initial tweet with this pearler:

  • “You are not my friend. In fact, I can call you a motherf$%&er”  (I’ve edited the offending parts)

And Stipe’s response?

  • “Shame on you”

A calm, measured response. A response that seems to indicate someone with a knowledge of how social networks work, and how professionals should behave on them. Stipe uses Twitter, I assume, to connect with fans of his and, ergo, fans of the club. Off the top of my head, I remember him having around 650 followers, so it isn’t that he has loads of fans that he can use Twitter to advertize his products or plug any things of his. Examples of how Stipe used (feels a little odd to use that in the past tense) Twitter include:

  • Posing for a photo with the Gifu supporters leader with a Croatian flag
  • Starting a “fan zone” series where he posted pics of him with Gifu fans that met him at training
  • Posting a photo of his signed contract at the start of this season
  • Keeping fans updated during his rehab from two injuries suffered this year
  • Posting motivational messages

The fact that Stipe was not shy about using Twitter meant that fans were naturally drawn to him. I didn’t know so many FC Gifu supporters spoke English until I saw replies to Stipe’s tweets! (And it still shames me that their English is much superior to my Japanese). I wrote in a piece for Goal Japan that Japanese clubs in general are a little bit behind in their usage of Twitter & Facebook for marketing purposes. (Thankfully, FC Gifu have recently made rapid progress in this field thanks to the new president of the club) The same could be said for a lot of players in Japan as well. Stipe Plazibat was one of the few players to interact with his fans on a regular basis, and thus his presence will be missed on Twitter. However, if this kind of risk dissuades other players from taking to social media, then the loss will be far greater. Of course, no-one wants to see racist/sexist/homophobic content anywhere, but reporting genuine cases of it and twisting words/images out of context to suit your argument are two very different things indeed.

This week, totally coincidentally, Nagoya Grampus sent their youth team on a SNS training seminar day based on the potential pitfalls of using them. But perhaps the people who use Twitter/Facebook just to look for trouble, to hurl insults they would never dream of saying people’s faces and to just generally stir things up should be the ones who learn how to use social networking sites.

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