Sports journalist, Sid Lowe presents an interesting defence of the Guardian’s publication of a publicity shot of the Spanish Olympic basketball team showing players “making slit-eyed gestures”.
As a result of a global reaction, the Globe and Mail quotes Toronto Raptors guard and Spanish team member, Jose Calderon:
“We didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” he said. “We apologize to Asian people if they were offended. Spain is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Maybe some people in Spain come through like that, but in England or the U.S. they have the same problem. We don’t feel we did something bad. It’s wrong to interpret it as racist.”
Yet another example of a non-apology. Not only is that phrase “if they were offended” used, but those who interpret the gesture as racism are said to be wrong, ie blame is shifted to them.
Calderon is reported as saying the idea for the shot “came from a photographer” – which is no excuse for players to concur if they felt uncomfortable (which some claim).
The image was used in a good luck advert from the team’s sponsor Seur, a Madrid-based courier company, which not commented. Reuters cites another player, Paul Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, as blaming Seur
“…The sponsor insisted and insisted. They pushed because they’re the people that pay the money. It was just a bad idea to do that. It was never intended to be offensive or racist against anybody…”
The team was apparently wearing uniforms sponsored by Chinese sportswear company, Li Ning. So, I accept there was probably no implication of a sense of superiority or hatred in relation to Chinese people with the posed photograph. But their PR advisors – and those at Seur – should be aware of cultural issues and recognise that parodying any other nationality could lead to negative reporting.
Even if they didn’t, there seems to have been a total lack of subsequent crisis management. Interestingly, AdAge believes the uproar is a non-issue and will work to Li Ning’s benefit as it may be seen as cool in Spain for not making a fuss about the adverts.
Like the first comment on the AdAge post, I wouldn’t take crisis management advice from an advertising publication. Issues and crisis are defined by others, not ourselves, with publics deciding if they will be active against your organisation.
Seur, Li Ning and the Spanish basketball team might find this issue is short-lived, but it leaves an online stain on their reputations that won’t be so easily dismissed. This is a global world – and we need the cultural sensitivity to recognise that, regardless of our own sense of humour.