Ezequiel Lavezzi, a 32-year-old Argentine football star who joined Chinese soccer club Hebei China Fortune, in February 2016, for a $13 million yearly paycheck, has sparked a storm on Chinese social media over the weekend after a picture of him apparently mocking Asian facial features was widely circulated online. In the picture, Lavezzi appears to smile and pull the corners of his eyes while wearing a Hebei China Fortune team uniform. On the social media platform Weibo, many commenters demanded that he “get out of China.” In response, Lavezzi, along with the club, released a statement (in Chinese) on May 14. “At the request of the photographer, I was trying to make some relaxed and funny poses to light up the atmosphere during the shooting,” said the statement. “I had no intention of insulting the Chinese people. I am happy to come to China and play for the Hebei club.” The player added, “I sincerely apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding caused by this picture. I will be more careful in the future.”
Lavezzi’s apology, however, has not stopped the outpouring of anger among internet users. Under a popular post (in Chinese) titled “He earns more than Lionel Messi, but he still discriminates against Chinese while making money from us,” a commenter stated (in Chinese), “This asshole represents a bunch of Western people who looked down upon us for hundreds of years. It is time to teach them a lesson.” However, some internet users came out in defense of the footballer. “Those who feel offended are so sensitive. I have done this face many times just for fun. Does that mean I discriminate against Chinese?” one person wrote (in Chinese). Others asked those who reacted strongly to reflect on their own behavior. “Many Chinese think…it is totally fine to discriminate against Indians, Africans in Guangzhou, Muslims, Koreans, and Japanese, but they don’t allow others to offend them,” another Weibo user commented.
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