Hebei apologises over Lavezzi's 'slit-eyed' photos

Ezequiel Lavezzi reportedly earns £400,000 (S$723,400) a week playing for Hebei China Fortune in the cash-rich Chinese Super League.
Ezequiel Lavezzi reportedly earns £400,000 (S$723,400) a week playing for Hebei China Fortune in the cash-rich Chinese Super League.

SHANGHAI • Argentina international Ezequiel Lavezzi has issued an apology through his Chinese football club after publicity photos showing him in a slit-eyed pose caused outrage on social media.

Lavezzi, 32, joined Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune last year from Paris Saint-Germain.

He landed himself in hot water over the weekend as photos emerged of the forward smiling and pulling the corners of his eyes back.

"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.

The episode illustrates the potential culture clashes that arise as Chinese teams spend big on foreign players. It comes just a week after Brazil striker Hulk, who plays for Shanghai SIPG, denied claims of a racially-charged assault on a rival team's coach.

A Hebei spokesman said some photos in the Lavezzi 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 and would "draw lessons" from the incident, 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 punishments for Lavezzi. No statement from the player was immediately available.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'Hebei apologises over Lavezzi's 'slit-eyed' photos'. Print Edition | Subscribe