Members of the Spanish men's and women's basketball teams are apologizing for a newspaper advertisement in which they make Asian-caricature faces for the camera.
International outrage erupted over the ad for Seur, a Spanish courier company, that showed the athletes pulling their skin to make their eyes narrow. The ad appeared in Spanish publications.
"If anyone feels offended by it, we totally apologize for it,"
Pau Gasol, a Spanish star who also plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, told the New York Times after practice Wednesday at the Beijing University of Language and Culture.
Other team members maintain the ad was taken out of context and say they took part only after Seur's representatives pressured them. And the team's coach, Aito García Reneses, declined to apologize for the photograph. He said he did not see it – and says it was meant as a joke.
"All of the Spanish people are close to the Chinese people mentally," he said. "We have a very good relationship."
Gasol said his team posed for several hundred pictures for various sponsors.
"Some of us didn't feel comfortable doing it," Gasol told reporters. "To me it was little clownish for our part to be doing that. 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."
Emmanuelle Moreau, a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee, said the apology was accepted. She wrote in an e-mail message: "We understand that the Spanish team intended no offense and has apologized. The matter rests there as far as the I.O.C. is concerned."