Spain's Olympic basketball team posed for an advertisement prior to the Games which appears to show all its players slanting their eyes, a move that could offend its Olympic hosts in Beijing. The ads, for a Spanish courier company, appeared in the Spanish-language newspaper La Marca.
As the uproar over the picture has grown today, more information about the advertising shot has come to light. The New York Times reports that Spain's basketball team is sponsored by Li-Ning Footwear, a Chinese company founded by Li Ning, the final torchbearer who was hoisted along the top of Beijing National Stadium during the Olympic Opening Ceremony finale. The ad reportedly references the Spanish team recently extending their contract with the footwear giant for another four years.
The Spanish-language paper El Mundo has a piece debating whether the ad was racist that basically calls out the British press for trying to smear Spain's good name. But they miss the point. Whether the picture was made in good fun is irrelevant. It was a ridiculous idea that was bound to upset a lot of people.
It's baffling that nobody involved in the picture -- from the photographers to the players -- even seemed to consider that this ad would be looked at negatively. Did it not occur to somebody that it might not be a good idea to mock an entire continent before the world's largest athletic competition that, by the way, happens to take place on that continent. Were they not aware of an invention called "the Internet" that allows pictures taken in Spain to be transmitted all over the world for the eyes of everyone?
And now that the inevitable controversy has hit, they're still defending themselves when a simple, "the ad was in poor taste, we apologize" would have sufficed. This story would be slowing down if the Spanish Basketball team had apologized immediately. Now it's just picking up steam.
The Organization of Chinese-Americans has released multiple statements condemning the picture. George Wu, deputy director of the group, said, "it is unfortunate that this type of imagery would rear its head during something that is supposed to be a time of world unity." Response in Beijing has been muted so far.
Madrid is thought to be one of the frontrunners to land the 2016 Summer Games (the site will be announced next year). Could this controversy hurt Spain's chances of landing another Olympics?
Interestingly, the Spanish basketball team took on China tonight, winning 85-75 in overtime. No word on whether Pau Gasol was on the receiving end of any elbows from Yao Ming. The Chinese crowd did have a message for the Spaniards though, booing vigorously during the game. Although, in the advertising world there is no bad publicity !