Spain's 'Slant-Eye' Team Photo Stirs Ire

Ad photo "divisive" but unlikely to damage Madrid's bid to host 2016 Games.

September 30, 2008, 1:33 PM

Aug. 12, 2008— -- A pre-Olympics "slant-eye" pose by the Spanish men's basketball team could leave the gold medal contenders with a black eye as they compete in Beijing.

An advertisement for the Spanish Basketball Federation that appeared in the Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca featured Spain's 15 national team members in uniform pulling back the skin on their eyelids, with smiles on their faces. The team photo was taken at a center court bearing a dragon logo.

It's a racially pejorative pose not often associated with goodwill in the United States and many other countries, where a similar gesture is more likely to be seen on a school playground than coming from Olympic statesman.

"It's something that I haven't seen since I was a kid," said Sarah Smith, a spokesman for the Organization of Chinese Americans in Washington, D.C. "I can't speak for what is considered funny in Spain. I don't know if it has the same impact that it would here. It's clearly racist, and not even in a jovial way."

Smith said she would expect more from a group of Olympians, particularly when many of them have played professionally in the United States.

"This is coming from grown men who are supposed to be representing their nation," Smith said.

The Chinese-American organization also issued a statement from deputy director George Wu, calling the photo "disturbing" and "divisive."

"It is unfortunate that this type of imagery would rear its head during something that is supposed to be a time of world unity," Wu said.

Attempts by ABC News to get a comment from Marca, the Madrid-based newspaper that published the ad, were unsuccessful. Madrid is one of the four finalist cities to host the 2016 games -- facing off against Chicago, Tokyo and Rio De Janiero.

As the controversial photo makes the rounds on the Internet, speculation has begun that the gesture many consider racially insensitive toward the Asian host country -- and anyone of Eastern Asian descent -- could jeopardize the Madrid 2016 bid.

Rob Livingstone, a Toronto-based journalist who founded a Web site devoted to tracking the International Olympic Committee's host city deliberations, said the poor judgment by a small group of Spanish athletes is unlikely to derail the city's Olympic hopes.

"Typically, these kind of things have little impact on the bids themselves," Livingstone said, citing a voting body of 100 members driven by a broad range of political and business agendas -- not individual incidents, however unflattering they may be.

"Lots of people are asking, 'How is this going to impact Madrid 2016?' My reaction is it won't," Livingstone said. "Whether or not it should is another issue."

Livingstone pointed to Beijing as an example of the host city that has faced stiff criticism for its human rights record in Tibet from the moment it expressed interest in hosting the games right through today's Olympic action.

The IOC will announce the 2016 host city in October.

This is not Spain's first racial controversy involving sport. In 2004, FIFA, the world ruling body in soccer, fined the Spanish Football Federation nearly $90,000 after Spanish fans showered black English players with racist chants during a "friendly" match in Madrid.

The governing body for Formula One auto racing announced in April an anti-racism campaign after British driver Lewis Hamilton, who is black, was racially taunted by racing fans in Madrid. A group, wearing dark makeup on their faces, wore shirts that read "Hamilton's Family."

Four members of the Spanish national team play professional basketball for NBA teams, including Los Angeles Lakers superstar Pau Gasol and his brother Marc Gasol. Spain won the gold medal in the 2006 World Championships.

The controversy about the team's advertisement had not reached Beijing, according to ABC News reporters covering the Olympic Games, before today's matchup between the Spanish and Chinese teams.

Gasol led Spain to an overtime victory after his teammates erased a 14 point deficit in the third quarter. Chinese sensation Yao Ming fouled out after another game in which a foot fracture continued to hold back his play.

Basketball is wildly popular in China, where the 7-foot, 6-inch Ming is a national celebrity and an estimated 300 million people -- roughly the population of the United States -- follow the sport.

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