Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Racist Olympic Ad

Here is the most up to date coverage of the racist Ad created by by the spanish Olympic team:

"The Spanish Olympic basketball teams are sponsored by Li-Ning, the Chinese footwear company sometimes called “the Nike of China,” but the ad was shot for a Spanish courier company, Seur. See bottom of post.]

Thanks to a comment by a reader named Will, on an earlier post about Spain’s basketball team, we were alerted to an article in The Guardian by Sid Lowe — a Madrid-based correspondent for the site’s excellent Football Weekly podcast — about the photograph above. As Lowe explains:

Spain’s Olympic basketball teams have risked upsetting their Chinese hosts by posing for a pre-Games advert making slit-eyed gestures. The advert for a courier company, which is an official sponsor of the Spanish Basketball Federation, occupied a full page in the sports daily Marca, the country’s best-selling newspaper.

The advert features two large photographs, one of the men’s basketball team, above, and one of the women’s team. Both squads pose in full Olympic kit on a basketball court decorated with a picture of a Chinese dragon. Every single player appears pulling back the skin on either side of their eyes. The advert carries the symbol of the sport’s governing body.

No one involved in the advert appears to have considered it inappropriate nor contemplated the manner in which it could be interpreted in China and elsewhere.

Our own Pete Thamel, who covered Spain’s victory over China earlier today for The Times, writes in from Beijing to point out that “the typically sedate Chinese crowds vigorously booed the Spanish basketball team at times in Spain’s overtime victory here on Tuesday night. It’s unknown whether it has anything to do with the publication of insensitive pictures in which the Spanish men’s and women’s team appear to be mocking people of Asian descent by pulling back their skin behind their eyes.”

A fairly heated debate over whether the ad is racist has been going on in various places online, including a British site called The Spoiler and in the comments thread beneath Pete’s report on the game in an earlier post here on Rings.

Roberto Hernandez, the Spanish press officer for basketball, said he was not aware of the picture when reached by telephone. When told about its contents and asked if the Spanish team had made any effort to apologize, he asked a reporter to call Li Ning, the Chinese Olympic hero from the 1984 Games and the man who floated through the air at the Bird’s Nest to light the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony. The Spanish team is sponsored by Li-Ning, the footwear company.

Here is the Li-Ning Co. Web page noting its sponsorship agreements, including that with the Spanish national basketball teams.

Li-Ning’s sponsorship with Spain basketball was noted in the U.S. press as long ago as 2004 (as in this L.A. Times article), and the deal itself was signed in 2002, as noted a couple of years ago by the English-language Beijing Review in this article.

In Spain the association with Li-Ning is hardly a secret at all. A blog for the business paper El Comercio notes the visit of Spain basketball officials and players upon their arrival in Beijing to the Li-Ning hospitality center, Spain basketball federation president Jose Luis Saez among them.

Moreover, on Aug. 6 Spain basketball and Li-Ning renewed their sponsorhip agreement through 2012 — which apparently was what the ads in Marca was referring to.

So while the gesture of the Spanish teams in the ads might seem culturally insensitive at first glance, it’s a little more complicated than that when you look deeper.

The Madrid daily El Mundo asks whether the ad constitutes “Racism or a Casual Wink?,” noting the posts in the Guardian and on this blog.

The El Mundo story gives some background for the ad, for the courier company Seur:
The photograph, widely disseminated now by the press, was made during the preparation campaign for the Olympic Games in Beijing. …

Jose Manuel Calderon, an icon of the national team, explains in his blog at elmundo.es that it was a wink of the sponsor, something they thought appropriate and affectionate. He is blunt: “Whoever wants to interpret something different, totally confused.”

“It turns out that in the photo shoot for the submission of our team, one of our sponsors asked us to make, as a ‘wink’ to our participation in Beijing, an expression of Eastern eyes. We felt it was something appropriate and that it would always be interpreted as an affectionate gesture,” says Calderon. “However, some European media have not looked on it well,” laments the linchpin of the national team.

Calderon denies any racist tinge in the gesture and expressed his “great respect for the East and its people.” The Extremaduran highlighted his great personal relationship with several Chinese friends by his team in the NBA, Toronto Raptors, and recalled that the sports brand Li Ning China outfits the Spanish team as one of its sponsors."

-Via NYTimes Blog

Creepily this whole fiasco of cultural insensitivity reminds me of the chain of commercials created by SaleGenie CEO Vin Gupta.

Combined, these two different ad's prove that you need to have a culturally aware ad agency working for you or you might very well create a PR nightmare.

*Update August 15th 2008

It looks like cultural insensitivity is a national sports trend in Spain. Today there was a discovery of a picture showing the Spanish olympic tennis team copying the same racist gesture as their countries Basketball team.

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