Lavezzi de­nies racism as ‘wacky’ pose causes storm

New Straits Times - - Sport -

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.

They 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 they 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. 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 were 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.

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.

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