Cape Town - A Chinese football official has said there is no evidence that Shanghai SIPG striker Hulk broke any rules after the Brazilian was accused of punching a rival team's coach.
Guizhou Zhicheng's then head coach Li Bing had accused the muscular Brazilian of punching his assistant Yu Ming in a racially-motivated attack at half-time during SIPG's 3-0 victory on Saturday, allegations that the Shanghai club and Hulk both flatly denied.
On Monday, Guizhou Zhicheng abruptly announced that Spaniard Gregorio Manzano, former coach of Shanghai club Shenhua, had replaced Li as coach. The club gave no further information or indication that Li was let go because of the Hulk controversy.
"At halftime there indeed was a dispute between the two sides. But according to our understanding of the situation so far, there is no evidence that Hulk violated any regulations," Li Lipeng, a Chinese Football Association (CFA) official involved in overseeing the professional leagues, said in Beijing on Tuesday.
Speaking to Chinese media, Li added that the run-in "was not as serious as some imagined."
The comments appeared to suggest that Hulk, one of a number of highly-paid foreign stars imported to the cash-rich Chinese Super League, was unlikely to be sanctioned over the controversy.
Guizhou's 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 publicly rejected the allegations of violence and racism.
"Unfortunately they are trying to abuse my image," Hulk wrote in English on the Chinese microblogging website, Weibo, late on Sunday.
"I have my conscience clear. God knows it. I just want to do what I love most - (which) is to play football! I'm very happy in China. I like and respect all of the Chinese people."
Hulk, who signed from Zenit St Petersburg for €55 million last June, has been SIPG's top-scorer this season with eight goals in all competitions for Andre Villas-Boas's side.
Li first raised the allegations of a racist attack on Yu at Saturday's post-match press conference, and then made further claims on social media.
But SIPG said there was no security camera footage of the altercation, and accused Li and Yu of making "inappropriate statements... provoking hostility between foreign and Chinese players".
Guizhou Zhicheng later posted that "the evidence is still unclear" and appealed to both sides to "look at the big picture" of developing Chinese football.