Spanish soccer star Andres Iniesta apologizes for blackface photo

Andres Iniesta, the former Barcelona captain and World Cup-winning Spanish soccer star, apologized Tuesday after being criticized for posting a picture of him posing with two people clad in blackface during a popular Christian celebration.

“At no time did Andres Iniesta want to bother anyone with that photograph which is the image of the illusion in Spain and apologizes to those people who may have been offended,” the statement read.   

The former Barcelona midfielder tweeted a picture with his wife, two children and a group of friends dressed in costumes to commemorate Three Kings Day. Two of the people in the picture, were in blackface. Iniesta is sitting on the ground at the front of the picture. As of Tuesday morning, the Twitter post had not been deleted, despite the apology.

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Three Kings Day is a popular Christian tradition in Spain that marks the biblical adoration of Jesus by the three Wise Men or Magi.

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“The presence of the Three Kings belongs to the culture of our country, rooted for many years with which we want to celebrate the most magical day of the year with our children and is a tradition that the Iniesta Ortiz family repeats every year,” the statement read.

Iniesta, who currently plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan, faced online backlash for posting the picture which many deemed inappropriate.

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“I love Iniesta like few other public figures, let alone athletes, he seems a supremely humble man and team-mate,” journalist Musa Okwonga told BBC Sport. “I just wonder how you can share a dressing room and so many trophies with [former Barcelona players] Eric Abidal and Dani Alves and still not realize this is not cool. It’s very disappointing.”

Iniesta has enjoyed a trophy-laden career with Barcelona and Spain. He won eight La Liga titles and four European Cups with Barcelona, while he also scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final for Spain against the Netherlands.