China’s football authority said Wednesday it is investigating Brazilian star Hulk’s alleged altercation with a rival club’s staffer, but it saw “no malicious intent” in a separate racially-charged row involving Argentina’s Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Both South American players, who are among the growing crop of highly paid foreign stars in China’s cash-rich Super League, have been embroiled in race-related incidents in recent weeks.

Givanildo Vieira de Sousa, known as Hulk

The Chinese Football Association said its disciplinary committee held a hearing last Friday with Hulk, who plays for Shanghai SIPG, and the assistant coach of Guizhou Zhicheng.

The hearing came after Guizhou Zhicheng’s then head coach Li Bing accused the muscular Brazilian of punching his assistant, Yu Ming, at half-time during SIPG’s 3-0 victory earlier this month.

Li had suggested Hulk had a racial motive for the alleged attack, saying that the Brazilian star “cannot be here and despise Chinese people,” though he later appeared to back off those comments.

Hulk and the Shanghai club have rejected the accusations.

CFA spokeswoman Huang Shiwei said in a statement that the association “has zero tolerance towards any behaviour that is not (in line with) sport ethics in the pitch, no matter who that person is. There is no exception.”

News of the investigation comes a week after a CFA official, Li Peng, said there was “no evidence” that Hulk had violated any regulations.

But Li Bing, who remains Guizhou’s general manager, said on his official Weibo microblog account that he would keep pursuing the charges even though his club said both sides “has reached agreement” in how to handle the incident.

Days after the Hulk incident, the Super League faced another controversy when promotional photos emerged of Lavezzi smiling and pulling the corners of his eyes back.

Lavezzi’s club, Hebei China Fortune, issued a statement on Sunday saying that the 32-year-old had apologised and insisted he meant no racial offence.

“We believe the footballer and the photographer did not have any malicious intent when they were shooting. (We) hope media don’t read too much into this,” the CFA said on Wednesday.

“Due to the differences of national conditions and cultures, different hand gestures or expressions have different meanings.”

But the CFA urged Lavezzi “to regulate his words and actions more” as a public figure.

Lavezzi’s slant-eyed pose has caused outrage on Chinese social media.

Hebei China Fortune said some photos in the Lavezzi promotional shoot were meant to be in a “light-hearted” and “wacky” vein.

But the team nonetheless conceded it had not been vigilant enough in the matter and would “draw lessons” from it, vowing to prevent anything similar occurring again.

The episode illustrates the potential culture clashes that can arise as Chinese teams spend big on foreign players.

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