Diego Maradona does not deny making racist gesture to South Korean fans at World Cup in Russia
World Cup winner had been accused by BBC journalist of ‘pulling his eyes to the side’ in a move that shocked onlookers in Moscow
Diego Maradona has given his version of an exchange with an Asian fan at a World Cup game in Moscow that witnesses perceived as racist.
British television staff working in Spartak Stadium during Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Iceland on Saturday reported seeing Maradona respond to South Korea fans calling his name.
Maradona “obliged with a smile, kiss and wave. Then pulled his eyes to the side in a clearly racist gesture”, broadcaster Jacqui Oatley posted on Twitter. A second British broadcaster wrote she also saw the incident.
The Argentina great is an official Fifa ambassador and attended the game in a VIP section as part of a group of former players branded as “Fifa Legends”.
On Maradona’s Facebook account , a message was posted early Sunday in Spanish, English and Italian seeking to explain the incident, which seemed to break Fifa anti-discrimination rules.
Maradona not so cool now. Some South Korea fans just shouted “Diego” and he obliged with a smile, kiss and wave. Then pulled his eyes to the side in a clearly racist gesture. All of us who saw it are stunned.
— Jacqui Oatley (@JacquiOatley) 16 June 2018
“I understand better than anyone that in the World Cup people are looking for news everywhere,” Maradona wrote, adding that he saw “an Asian boy wearing an Argentina T-shirt”.
“I, from afar, tried to tell them how nice it seemed to me that even the Asians cheer for us. And that’s all, guys, come on.”
Fifa statutes prohibit acts of discrimination by teams, officials and fans at games it organises.
In a response to Associated Press, Fifa referred to its rules without commenting on the incident, and included a link to Maradona’s Facebook page.
A similar gesture last year in a game against South Korea led to a Colombia player being banned by Fifa for five friendly games.
Edwin Cardona later apologised for the gesture during the game in Seoul, and was also fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,050) by Fifa. Cardona was not selected for the World Cup.
I’m sat right next to Jacqui and saw Maradona’s gesture. He should know better. The lads filming him were so excited to get a picture of him and that was his response. Very Disappointing.
— Seema Jaswal (@meseemajaswal) 16 June 2018
In Major League Baseball’s World Series last year, Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros made a similar gesture towards Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, then pitching for the Dodgers. Gurriel apologised and was suspended for the first five games of this season.
Maradona also apologised on Facebook for smoking a cigar on Saturday, despite a Fifa ban on smoking at World Cup stadiums.
“Everyone has their way of feeling things,” he wrote, citing tension at the game. “I honestly did not know that no one can smoke in the stadiums.”