China's football authority said Monday it was investigating reports that Senegalese striker Demba Ba was subjected to racial slurs by an opposing Chinese player during a weekend match, vowing "stern punishment" if the incident proved true.
The African former Chelsea forward, now with Shanghai Shenhua, became embroiled in a heated confrontation with Changchun Yatai midfielder Zhang Li late in their 1-1 Chinese Super League draw on Saturday night after Ba collided with one of Zhang's teammates.
Various Chinese media reports said a furious Ba later claimed that Zhang had hurled racially insulting remarks at him.
The Chinese Football Association (FA) said in a statement that it had launched an investigation and would hold hearings to determine whether any league conduct rules were violated.
"If this is true, there will be stern punishment in accordance with the rules," it said.
"We oppose racist behaviour in any form."
The statement did not mention any particular players.
Ba has not commented publicly on the affair but has retweeted anti-racism posts on his personal Twitter account.
In a post-match press conference, Shenhua coach Wu Jingui had confirmed that "a Yatai player used insulting language toward" Ba.
Following the match, Chinese social media exploded with calls for an investigation.
If misconduct is proven, any guilty parties could indeed face tough sanctions from domestic football authorities who will want to nip any controversy in the bid.
Chinese football is already under government scrutiny after splurging teams brought in a series of high-priced foreign players on transfer deals in recent years, prompting the government to impose tough spending curbs amid concerns over clubs' solvency.
Ba, a Senegalese international, had played for Shenhua in 2015-2016 before being sidelined by a broken leg.
Brief spells with Turkish sides Besiktas and Goztepe followed before Ba returned to Shenhua in June during the summer transfer window.