NEW YORK/MARDID (Reuters) - Spain’s leading player Pau Gasol apologized on behalf of his team on Wednesday after widespread criticism of slit-eyed gestures by the world champions at the Beijing Olympics.
Published pictures show the Spanish team dressed in Olympic kit standing on a basketball court marked with a Chinese dragon. All the players are pulling the skin back at the side of their eyes.
Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, told the New York Times that, at the time, some of the players had felt uncomfortable shooting the advertisement for sponsors Seur, a Spanish courier company. Seur was unavailable for comment.
“To me it was little clownish for our part to be doing that. The sponsor insisted and insisted. They pushed because they’re the people that pay the money. It was just a bad idea to do that. It was never intended to be offensive or racist against anybody,” the New York Times quoted him as saying on its website (www.nytimes.com).
“If anyone feels offended by it, we totally apologize for it.”
However the New York Times said Spain coach Aito Garcia Reneses, did not apologize for the picture and said the intention was a joke and not offensive.
Gasol’s team mate Jose Calderon said the gestures had not been racist.
“I want to say that we have a great respect for the Orient and their peoples. Some of my best friends in Toronto are of Chinese origin,” Calderon, who plays for Canada’s NBA Toronto Raptors team, said in a message posted on his website (www.josemauelcalderon.com).
“Whoever interprets something else from the photos has taken it completely the wrong way,” he added.
Spanish newspapers also rejected suggestions that the pictures were racist, saying the team had donated money to charities helping the poor in Africa.
“To try and convert an affectionate gesture of a model group of sportsmen and women into racism is repugnant,” said Jose Luis Martinez, columnist for the Marca sports newspaper in which the pictures first appeared.
But condemnation in Gasol’s adopted home of Los Angeles seemed unanimous.
“The sheer stupidity of the Spanish team photo does make me just shake my head,” said one contributor to the LA Times’ Lakers blog. “Being Asian and seeing this however, I do want to shake my fist.”
Racism has blighted Spanish sport in the past.
Some spectators targeted Britain’s black Formula One motor racing driver Lewis Hamilton in Barcelona in February and racist chants directed at black soccer players have been a persistent problem.
Additional reporting by Ben Harding in Madrid; Editing by John Mehaffey