• A woman attends an exhibition of award-winning photography for the 2016 World Press Photo contest.

A woman attends an exhibition of award-winning photography for the 2016 World Press Photo contest. (Photo : Getty Images)

An award-winning photograph titled "Sweat makes champion" caused a storm of controversy after some netizens interpreted the award as the world's bias against Chinese athletes.

The image was photographed by Wang Tiejun, and depicts the hard training regime of young Chinese gymnasts. It has won second prize in the 60th World Press Photo Contest's "daily life" singles category.

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The World Press Photo Foundation is an independent organization founded in 1955. It is currently based in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Its competition in 2017 received 80,408 photos from 5,034 photographers in 125 countries.

The photo shows four primary-age girls doing a "toe-pressing training" with legs having bruises to indicate their discomfort. During the shoot, the girls have their backs against a wall and are supporting themselves on the tips of their toes for 30 minutes.

The girls are students of a gymnastics school in Xuzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province.

The award was slammed by some internet users after they found out that the World Press Photo Contest has previously awarded prizes to nine similar photos of Chinese gymnasts in the sports category.

Netizens said that the organization behind the contest "demonizes" gymnastics in the country, as it stereotypes that Chinese athletes undergo a torturous training game.

These internet users became more outraged after finding out that the photo was originally pitched in the sports category, but was later awarded in the "daily life" section, which they thought was inappropriate.

Other netizens argued that the photos are supposed to reflect the facts of the sport, regardless of whether someone will feel offended by it.

Wang's official statement says: "It's not about being tortured or oppressed; the photo tells the story that success is not made easily, which is also part of my understanding of the Chinese dream."

He added: "The picture will help the world understand the Chinese dream, and the award category was accepted internationally."