Thursday, August 14, 2008

Racist Or Not? - The Spanish Basketball Team 'Eyes' China

The Spanish Olympic Basketball making fun of Asians by pulling their eyes into slits with their forefingers. Is the gesture racist or not? Does it really matter if there is intent to offend, or does it depend on the recipient? This is not the first time that Spanish sport and their sportsmen have come under scrutiny for apparent racist behaviour. One thing is for sure - it was done in very poor taste, and whoever thought of the idea should be looking for a new job.

Both the mens and ladies Olympic basketball teams have upset their Chinese hosts and officials by posing for an advertisement whilst making slit-eyed gestures. The advertisement is for a courier company, which is an official sponsor of the Spanish Basketball Federation. The Marca (a sports daily publication and the country's highest-selling newspaper) placed the advertisement on a full page.

The advertisement actually features two large photographs - one of the men's team (pictured above), the other of the women's team. Both squads are dressed in full Olympic outfits on a basketball court, with a picture of a Chinese dragon at their feet in centre court. Every player is posing by pulling back the skin on either side of their eyes. The advertisement carries the logo of the sport's governing body.

It is very strange that no one involved in the advertisement appears to have considered it inappropriate. Nor have they thought about how it could potentially be interpreted in China and other Asian nations.

The offical line from team management and players, is that no offence was intended. Whether the Chinese see it that way or not is a different matter. It is highly likely to provoke more criticism for Spanish sport when it has already been under the spotlight for other misdemeanours. The potential fallout could cause problems for Spain and the Spanish Olympic committee's desire to host the Olympics in Madrid in 2016 or 2020.

Not all that long ago, the Spanish became acutely aware of how sensitive racial issues can be, especially internationally. Spanish sport has been placed under severe scrutiny for a number of recent incidents, including the monkey chants aimed at England's black football players by Spanish football fans at a November 2004 friendly international in Madrid. The Spanish football federation was fined by world governing body Fifa for this overt racism. Also, former national team coach Luis Aragones also caused controversy by 'now infamous' remarks about France striker Thierry Henry.

Finally, just last year, Spanish Formula One fans targeted British driver Lewis Hamilton during a testing day at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.


Anonymous said...

This is of course a racist advertisement, and the fact that we're debating whether it's racist shows how hypocritical white countries are. You can't even call people "fat" these days, and in Singapore, expatriates have been known to write in about the term "ang moh".

Aussie Pete said...

Hmmm... "shows how hypocritical WHITE countries are"... I actually agree, the photo is racist. But so is your comment.

For my take on the term "ang moh", feel free to have a look at this article: 'Ang Mo' in Singapore and 'Lao Wai' or 'Gweilo' in China - Offensive to Westerners?