Time for Spain to stand up

From Javi Tebas, the LFP President, down, they say it is the best League in the world, one that captures the world’s attention. They’re right, to an extent, never more so than in the past two weeks when newspaper columns have spoken more about fan incidents than the most exciting League climax in over a decade.

The powers that be in Spanish football have a tendency to bury their heads in the sand when the ugly issue of racism is raised. They aren’t the only ones to do so but the time has come to face the issue head on.

In the past two weeks Spanish football has made all the wrong headlines. The incident involving a fan throwing a banana at Dani Alves was followed a week later by Atletico Madrid fans racially abusing Pape Diop. Both players reacted. Alves ate a piece of the banana and Diop started to dance like a monkey.

The images of the players’ reactions were seen around the world and criticism of the Spanish game and its authorities was widespread. It forced the LFP to act and they released a statement this week announcing that they in no way condone racism.

They also said that they would be giving classes at each club explaining their responsibility to stamp racism out of the game. But it won’t be easy. The attitude at some clubs is to let the whole thing blow over and do nothing. In the past two weeks we have had two situations and two different approaches of how to face and deal with it. 

Villarreal sprang into action after the incident in El Madrigal. They found the person that threw the banana, banned him for life from the ground and also took away his membership. The club released a statement apologising to Alves and condemning the racist fan and racism.

Atletico have made no such effort to even apologise to Diop, but instead thanked those who had travelled to the game via Twitter. It was said that some of the club’s players went to see Diop after the game and apologise but in public nothing was said. The club have issued no statement against racism nor do they appear to be too bothered in doing so. This isn’t the first racial incident involving Atletico this season.

Real Madrid defender Marcelo was subject to torrid abuse from Atletico Ultras after the Copa del Rey game at Santiago Bernabeu. Like most cases in Spain it went mainly ignored until the international press highlighted it. This shows another stumbling block on the road to eliminating racism from the Spanish game – the refusal or preference of the Press to ignore it.

Incidents at grounds generally go unreported by the Spanish Press and when they do it is more for ‘tit for tat’ arguments. The Catalan media will report that Alves was abused in the Bernabeu, which will prompt the Madrid media to retort with that Marcelo was abused at Camp Nou, or vice versa.

The Diop incident got more attention due to the international focus now on the Spanish game and so it appears that the national Press is finally starting to address the issue. But for as much as the Press, clubs and the authorities want to find a solution, the answer lies in the hands of the fans and this is where things get tricky.

Some fans claim that monkey chanting and so on is not racist but a way of winding up an opposing player and causing him to lose focus. If a player speaks out or reacts it is a sign that he can be upset and that is a reason to continue the abuse. As evidence for this argument they use the case of Brazilians, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo.

Carlos constantly spoke out against racism and so was subject to continued abuse across Spain. Ronaldo said nothing and was left alone. As insane as this argument is, it is a common excuse used by fans and accepted by many.

Frightfully this has caused some black players to remain in silence. One player once confided to me that after being subjected to racial abuse, he was advised by other players not to speak out, as the abuse would only get worse.

He also said that is was a common view among black players and since they knew the Spanish FA and the clubs involved would fail to act, they choose to keep their mouths shut in the hope it would go away eventually. Knowing this, one can’t but feel further admiration for the stance taken by Alves and Diop.

The English Press are usually the first to highlight racist incidents but they are accused of hypocrisy in Spain as racism was once was far worse in England.  The fact that the past tense is used is always ignored.

Surely the best solution would be that the Spanish authorities ask their English counterparts for help? English football has made huge strides in eliminating racism from the game and could provide invaluable advice. The big question though is if the English FA offered help, would the Spanish listen?