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Chinese announcer apologizes for his World Cup commentary

BEIJING—The "hysterical" ranting of China's most popular soccer commentator on live television during the broadcast of a World Cup match this week has sparked an outpouring of emotion in a nation where strongly felt opinions usually are sublimated.

Popular soccer commentator Huang Jianxiang lost his cool during a match between Italy and Australia, shouting himself hoarse in an outburst seen by millions of people.

"Italy is victorious! Long live Italy! . . . Great Italy!" Huang shrieked during the match broadcast by state-run China Central Television early Tuesday morning as Italy won the game on a dramatic penalty kick. "I don't like the Australian team," he shouted, adding with glee that it "should go home."

During key parts of the match, Huang issued a prolonged pro-Italy wail that made Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean's "I have a scream" speech during the 2004 campaign sound wan in comparison.

As surprised viewers filled Internet chat rooms and Web sites with their reactions to Huang's outburst, some voicing support and others disgust, the commentator offered an explanation Tuesday: "I am a human being, not a machine, not a computer program. I cannot be objective, neutral, impartial and fair all the time."

By Wednesday, viewers bombarded popular Web sites with e-mail, apparently sensing that the cork had popped off a bottle on a limited issue in this authoritarian country, which strictly censors television and newspapers but occasionally loosens the reins on the Internet.

Nearly 1.1 million people took part in an online poll on the Web site www.sohu.com, with 45 percent declaring support for Huang and 54 percent agreeing that his unbridled remarks were "kind of drastic." About 1 percent said they didn't care.

The most popular Chinese-language Web site, www.sina.com, also was inundated. A poll there drew 350,000 responses, with half supporting Huang, who's been on the air for 12 years.

"Soccer is so passionate! So unrestrained!! Full of personality!" purred one online contributor, smitten by Huang and the unleashing of emotion.

"This should absolutely not be allowed," another sounded off, under the name Chocolate. "What power do you possess to force your personal preference on others?"

Several newspapers laid into Huang.

"A good soccer game commentator should never be biased," the Shanghai Daily said in an editorial Wednesday. The China Daily newspaper, in a front-page article, described Huang as "hysterical" during the broadcast, which aired from 1 until 3 a.m. local time.

The World Cup occurs every four years, and China didn't classify to field a team this year. Even so, the televised matches allow average Chinese to congregate and voice passions without getting in trouble with authorities. Despite the late viewing hours, tens of millions of Chinese are watching the matches. They've favored traditional powers such as Italy, Brazil, Argentina and Germany and rooted against Japan and South Korea, regional rivals that have been eliminated.

Australia's team, known as the Socceroos, recently joined the Asian Football Confederation and in the future will contest China and other regional nations to qualify for the World Cup.

Huang described the Australian team as "full of naturalized Australians who play and live in Britain. I don't want to see Australia have good results in the World Cup."

Apparently with some arm-twisting from his employer, Huang faxed in an apology from Germany, the site of the games, and it was posted on the network's Web site.

"I put too much personal emotion into my live comments," Huang said. "I am sorry for the discomfort and hurt I brought to everybody."

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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