Argentina international Ezequiel Lavezzi has issued an apology through his Chinese club after publicity photos that showed him making a slant-eyed pose caused outrage on social media.
Lavezzi, who joined Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune last year from Paris Saint-Germain, landed in hot water over the weekend as photos emerged with the 32-year-old smiling and pulling the corners of his eyes back into thin slits.
“The club has discussed this matter with Lavezzi, who said he meant no racial offence and apologised deeply for any harmful impression that it created,” the club said in a statement on Sunday.
It said some of the photos in the promotional shoot taken earlier this year were meant to be in a “light-hearted” and “wacky” vein.
But the team nonetheless conceded it had not been vigilant enough in preventing the controversy and would “draw lessons” from it, vowing to prevent anything similar occurring again.
The pictures drew condemnation on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, with outraged users demanding Lavezzi be punished or even tossed out of the league.
“This is an extremely abominable gesture that discriminates against Chinese people. Get him out of here!” said one posting.
The club did not announce any punishment for Lavezzi. No direct statement from the player was immediately seen.
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A Chinese company, ImagineChina, which works as an official photo partner for the CSL, put out a separate statement saying the offending photos were shot in Spain in February when the team was conducting winter training there.
It said they were taken by photographers from Spanish national news agency EFE who were hired by ImagineChina to conduct the shoot.
ImagineChina said the photographers had no intention of producing photos insulting to Asians.
Brazil striker Hulk, who plays for Shanghai SIPG, was embroiled in controversy this month after Guizhou Zhicheng’s then head coach Li Bing – who has since been sacked – accused him of punching an assistant coach, and implied the attack was racially motivated.
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Hulk and SIPG denied any attack took place, and the Brazilian later took to Weibo to protest that he was being slandered, saying: “I like and respect all of the Chinese people.”
The Lavezzi episode recalled a controversy involving the Spanish national basketball team ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the eventual silver medallists made the same eye gesture during a photo shoot for a sponsor.