By Cillian Shields l @pile_of_eggs
“Today what was lost was not a match, today respect was lost and the spirit of football and sport.” Valencia’s club statement made no bones about their stance regarding the alleged racist abuse their player Mouctar Diakhaby suffered in the Cádiz-Valencia game on Sunday afternoon.
This weekend, Spanish football served as another grim reminder that the country has a serious issue with racism that needs to be confronted. Of all of the things that happened on the pitch this weekend in La Liga, without a shadow of a doubt the most important issue is the allegation of racial insults in the Estadio Ramón de Carranza.
In the 29th minute, the visiting side walked off the pitch in unison after central defender Diakhaby was allegedly racially abused by Cadiz defender Juan Cala. There were a few minutes of tension and heated words among both sets of players, with Diakhaby at the centre of it all looking very visibly distressed, before Los Che went back to the dressing room. Some minutes later, the home side also left the pitch.
The referee’s game notes say that none of the arbitral staff heard anything of the alleged insult.
Away from the cameras, the French centre-back was consoled by teammates and discussions were had about how to proceed. Valencia’s twitter account strongly backed their player, with a clear message of ‘No To Racism.’
Both a club statement published after the game, captain José Gayà in the post-game interview, and manager Javi Gracia said that while in the dressing room, Valencia were essentially threatened with a forfeit of the game plus a potential extra sanction if they didn’t return to the pitch to see out the encounter.
The club statement also says that Diakhaby himself then “requested” his teammates to go back out and see out the game, although manager Javi Gracia worded it slightly differently to press later, indicating that the player “understood perfectly we had to continue to avoid a possible sanction,” which isn’t exactly the same as requesting and encouraging his teammates to carry on.
25 minutes after play was stopped, it resumed, with Diakhaby in the stands after being substituted for Hugo Guillamón, feeling he was unable to continue the game, and with a yellow card to his name also for protesting about the entire incident. The match camera occasionally focused on the withdrawn player in the stands, arms folded, and looking uncomfortable. Juan Cala played on until half time, and his replacement scored an 88th minute goal to give Cádiz a sorry three points that will go far in consolidating their position in the top division next year.
For his part, the Cádiz player firmly denies he made a racial insult toward the Frenchman, and later bemoaned what he felt was an absence of the presumption of innocence. A club statement from the Andalusians reaffirmed their opposition to all forms of racism and outlined their stance that anybody who commits such an offence, “be they from our team or not, must pay for it.”
However, the club ultimately backed their man, saying they “don’t doubt the honesty” of their players, who are firm in the fight against racism, according to the statement.
Response from La Liga
It is important to remind that those of us who were not on the pitch do not fully know what words were exchanged, and as such no accusation of racism has been proven. The specifics of that moment were not caught immediately in the match-day broadcast. However, the obvious upset of Diakhaby tells its own story, and it’s hard to believe that he reacted so strongly to nothing. Nevertheless, we will have to wait for more evidence to come to light. While denying racism, Cala has also not yet clarified what he did say to the Valencia player.
What must happen now is a full investigation into the facts to establish what was said between the players. La Liga places so many cameras and microphones at all matches, catching all sorts of angles and plenty of audio that can put the audience right at the heart of any game. With no fans in the stands too, it should theoretically be even easier to find the incident and isolate the relevant audio.
La Liga has the responsibility to carry this out to the full extent of their ability, and if they do manage to prove anything, it will be a welcome first step of putting action to the anti-racist messages that are so often repeated.
What happened could turn out to be impossible to prove one way or the other, if microphones simply did not pick up what Cala actually said to Diakhaby. If this is the case, then authorities’ hands are tied somewhat. Regardless, the league’s decision-making, and therefore its true messaging, on this issue has been far from exemplary in the past, and the very minimum they can do is put importance and resources behind a complete investigation.
The only game ever to be suspended mid-match under La Liga’s authority for any kind of abuse was the encounter between Rayo Vallecano and Albacete in the second division of the 2019/20 season when Rayo fans, known to be fiercely left-wing, anti-racist, and anti-fascist, showered visiting forward Roman Zozulya with chants of “f***ing nazi,” due to the Ukrainian’s apparent strong links with a far-right militia group from his home country.
Read more: Roman Zozulya and Rayo Vallecano
Many photographs are easily found online with Zozulya posing in seemingly unremarkable ways that to the untrained eye would not be worth a second glance. However, with fascist ideology seemingly on the rise throughout the world, their symbols are used in subversive ways, designed not to attract attention and only visible to those who know what they’re looking for. Many of these symbols and signifiers are hidden in plain sight when it comes to the case of Zozulya.
Rayo fans knew why they were chanting “f**king nazi” at Zozulya, but the referee and league authorities had no time for this reasoning. The game was abandoned at half time with the second half played months later in an empty stadium amid the pandemic, and Rayo were given a fine and condemned by many, ultimately for their intolerance of an ideology of hate.
This was the only time in La Liga history that such action was taken, when chants with an anti-racist message were directed at one individual who had a personal history with the club. But no action was taken by league authorities nor the referee team one week later, when Albacete fans made clear racist insults toward Youn Diop in their B side’s clash against La Roda.
Nor was action taken two weeks prior to the Rayo-Albacete Zozulya incident when Atletico Madrid fans chanted “Griezmann, die!” when their former hero visited the Wanda Metropolitano stadium with Barcelona. In this instance, the political element was removed from the context, but the Rayo-Albacete game was suspended for personal abuse, similar to this.
Atletico Madrid fans visiting the Vallecas stadium have on numerous occasions displayed a barrage of fascist gestures and symbols directed at Rayo fans both inside and outside the stadium, before and during games. Action has never been taken by referees or league authorities.
Iñaki Williams has been racially abused by Espanyol fans, Samuel Eto’o suffered years of racist abuse during his time in the league, a banana was thrown at Dani Alvés in Villarreal’s ground, yet in none of these instances did La Liga or referees intervene.
Disgracefully, this keeps on happening, and this weekend has shown it can happen on the pitch as well as in the stands. Spanish society as a whole needs to do a lot better in confronting this problem, and La Liga have much to improve on their protocols for how they deal with these issues.
The league’s first comment on what happened in the match came a day later with a bland and vague paragraph about how they were committed to the fight against racism “to protect the values of equality and respect that prevail in our Spanish professional football competition,” as though so-called competition values were the most important aspect at play.
If they say they are committed to fighting against racism, now is the time to show this is true. There is time for the league to carry out a necessary investigation, impose justice, and send out a clear correct message to the world about how they will hold those responsible for any such incidents of racism to account. This would be a hugely welcome first step in the right direction.