Hong Kong -- US basketball player Tracy McGrady was criticized by wildlife campaigners Tuesday for eating shark's fin soup during a visit to Hong Kong.
The 26-year-old NBA star, known as T-MAC, reportedly said he had been impressed by the soup - a controversial dish blamed for putting some species of sharks at risk of extinction.
"This is the first time I've had shark's fin soup in my life," he was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post newspaper during his visit, which ended Friday.
The head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Hong Kong told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Tuesday that the player's comments were a bad example to young basketball fans.
McGrady's remarks came just weeks after his Chinese teammate from the Houston Rockets, Yao Ming, fronted a campaign urging his countrymen to stop eating shark's fin soup.
McGrady was paying his third official visit in Hong Kong for sportswear giant Adidas, with whom he holds a life-time promotional contract.
The company's collection of sportswear includes a T-MAC basketball shoe, which has been one of the best-selling shoes in the US.
A press release issued by Adidas ahead of the tour, which also took him to Korea, China and the Philippines, said that McGrady's visit was aimed at boosting the growth of basketball in Asia and to give his young fans a chance to interact with the star.
Hong Kong WWF chief executive Eric Bohm told dpa that McGrady's remarks demonstrated how the message about shark's fin was still not getting across.
"I think it is an ill-conceived remark made in complete ignorance. It was immature," he said.
"I am of the old school who happen to think that athletes have to be above the rest of us when they are considered heroes. He should think before he speaks. It's a reflection that our message about shark's fin is not getting across. The slaughter of sharks is still going on unabated."
Yao and other Chinese celebrities joined a campaign, launched last month by San Franciso-based WildAid, appearing in commercials urging Chinese people not to buy ivory and other products from endangered species.
Bohm said that Yao Ming's stand against shark's fin soup "from a cultural point of view that carries more credence to our campaign in China than Mr McGrady's comments."
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that 100 million sharks are caught annually, but some experts believe the true figure could be up to 200 million sharks.
Many sharks are caught solely for their fins and are dumped back into the sea to bleed to death once their fins have been hacked off for the soup, which is considered a delicacy for Chinese weddings and banquets.
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