After attracting attention for allegedly earning the world’s highest salary in his profession, Argentine striker Ezequiel Iván Lavezzi once again became a buzzword on Chinese social media. Only this time, it was not for a good reason.
The scandal began on May 12 when China-based British soccer reporter Mark Dreyer posted a photo of Lavezzi on his Twitter account. The photo showed the Argentinean athlete pulling up the corners of his eyes to form “slant eyes,” which immediately drew heavy criticism for its racist associations.
While the photo was not officially published, the incident nevertheless triggered a massive reaction in China. After two days of silence, Lavezzi and his soccer club, Hebei China Fortune, released two statements on Sina Weibo on the evening of May 14. The statements contained apologies and explanations of the gesture, which Lavezzi said he intended to be “funny.”
In a statement in both Spanish and Chinese, Lavezzi wrote, “I apologize for the misunderstanding caused among the Chinese public and soccer fans.” He explained that the photo was taken for next season at the request of China’s Super League, and that he had merely been cooperating, acting funny to light the atmosphere.
“I had no malicious intentions, let alone any intention to insult the Chinese,” Lavezzi said in the statement. He also said he is very happy to be in China playing in the Hebei soccer club, and that he enjoys life in China, where he feels that Chinese people are very friendly.
The soccer club explained in its statement that the players were making “funny” gestures at the request of photographers, and Lavezzi’s gesture did not make anyone present feel uncomfortable. The club stressed that the photo was never released officially nor used for club promotion.
Admitting that they must be more careful to avoid similar situations in the future, Hebei China Fortune insisted that the team reserves the rights to take legal action in the case of libel.
However, the apologies failed to appease many Chinese netizens, who still expressed doubt about the photo shoot and Lavezzi’s intentions.
“Of all the funny faces he could have made, why did he have to make that one?” wrote one netizen on Sina Weibo.