SHANGHAI • China's football authority is investigating Brazilian striker Hulk's alleged altercation with a rival club's staff member. But it said it saw "no malicious intent" in a separate racially charged row involving Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Both South American players, who are among the growing crop of highly paid foreign stars in the cash-rich Chinese Super League (CSL), have been under the spotlight for the wrong reasons in recent weeks.
The Chinese Football Association (CFA) said its disciplinary committee held a hearing last Friday with Hulk, who plays for Shanghai SIPG, and the assistant coach of Guizhou Zhicheng.
The hearing came after Guizhou's then head coach Li Bing accused the muscular Brazilian of punching his assistant, Yu Ming, at half-time during SIPG's 3-0 victory earlier this month.
Li suggested Hulk had a racial motive for the alleged attack, saying that the Brazilian "cannot be here and despise Chinese people", though he later appeared to back off from those comments.
Hulk and the Shanghai club have rejected the accusations.
CFA spokesman Huang Shiwei said in a statement that the association "has zero tolerance towards any behaviour that is not (in line with) sport ethics in the pitch, no matter who that person is". "There is no exception," he added.
NO OFFENCE MEANT
We believe the footballer and the photographer did not have any malicious intent when they were shooting. (We) hope the media don't read too much into this.
A CFA STATEMENT, addressing Ezequiel Lavezzi's slant-eyed pose which sparked anger on Chinese social media.
News of the investigation comes a week after a CFA official, Li Peng, said there was "no evidence" that Hulk had violated any regulations.
But Li Bing, who remains Guizhou's general manager, said on his official Weibo microblog account that he would keep pursuing the charges even though his club said both sides "have reached agreement" on how to handle the incident.
Days after the Hulk incident, the CSL faced another controversy when promotional photos emerged of Lavezzi smiling and pulling the corners of his eyes back.
His club, Hebei China Fortune, issued a statement on Sunday saying that the 32-year-old had apologised and insisted he meant no racial offence. The episode illustrates the potential culture clashes that can arise as Chinese teams spend big on foreign players.
"We believe the footballer and the photographer did not have any malicious intent when they were shooting. (We) hope the media don't read too much into this," the CFA said yesterday. "Due to the differences of national conditions and cultures, different hand gestures or expressions have different meanings."
But the CFA urged Lavezzi "to regulate his words and actions more" as a public figure. His slant-eyed pose has caused outrage on Chinese social media.
Hebei said some photos in the Lavezzi promotional shoot were meant to be in a "light-hearted" and "wacky" vein. But the team nonetheless conceded that they had not been vigilant enough in the matter and would "draw lessons" from it, vowing to prevent anything similar occurring again.