Spain’s Olympic basketball teams posing for photos pull back skin of eyelids
Spanish star Calderon defends poses as ‘respect’ for Chinese
BEIJING — The Spanish men’s and women’s basketball teams posed for pre-Olympics photos in which their members are pulling back the skin of their eyelids in a racially offensive manner, causing controversy just as Madrid battles Chicago for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The photo appeared as an advertisement for a courier company that sponsors the Spanish Basketball Federation, which didn’t immediately respond to a phone call because its offices were closed overnight.
A spokeswoman for the Spanish Olympic Committee based here said her organization had nothing to do with the photo, which appeared in the Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca before the Spanish national team traveled to China.
Spain, the defending world champion in men’s basketball, held a closed practice here Wednesday. Meanwhile, several Chinese-rights organizations decried the photos.
“It is unfortunate that this type of imagery would rear its head during something that is supposed to be a time of world unity,” said George Wu, deputy director for the Organization of Chinese Americans in Washington, D.C.
Spain has been involved in previous racial incidents involving sports. FIFA, soccer’s ruling organization, fined the Spanish Football Federation $90,000 in 2004 after Spanish fans shouted racist chants at black English players.
Spanish fans also taunted English driver Lewis Hamilton earlier this year, prompting the governing body for Formula One to initiate an anti-racism campaign.
The New York Times reported the Spanish national teams are sponsored by Li-Ning, the footwear company owned by Chinese Olympic hero and torch lighter Li Ning. In his blog at elmundo.es, national team stalwart Jose Calderon wrote of that association and his team’s “great respect for the East and its people.”
Calderon defended the gesture.
“One of our sponsors asked us to make, as a ‘wink’ to our participation in Beijing, an expression of Eastern eyes,” he wrote. “We felt it was something appropriate and that it would always be interpreted as an affectionate gesture. … Whoever wants to interpret something different, totally confused.”