In February 2009 the English national football team is slated to play Spain in a high-profile exhibition match. The match was originally to be played in Madrid at the Bernabeu Stadium home of Real Madrid. However, the last time England and Spain locked horns at the Bernabau stadium in 2005; the black players on England’s team were subjected to racist abuse by sections of the crowd. Because of this incident the governing body for football in England, the FA, is recommending that the game not be held there again.
At that game England’s players warmed up wearing anti-racist t-shirts but that did not stop the racist jeers. Every time a black English player touched the ball, sections of the crowd would boo loudly and some fans directed monkey chants towards them.
Racism in Spanish football is a massive problem, but unlike in England, there is little to no effort to address it. As discussed before on this blog because of the combined efforts of fans, the FA, and anti-racist groups, racist incidents in British football are now very rare.
In Spain racism is seen both at the club and international level. The captain of the Spanish national team, Iker Casillas, reacted angrily about the FA’s perceived boycott of the Bernadeu stadium, stating, “That really does seem like a joke and completely stupid to me,”…”At every stadium there are heartless people who shout against everything and everyone, but you can’t generalize, and even less with the crowd at the Bernabeu who have always shown their respect and their love for good football.”
Casillas’s international teammate, Cesc Fabregas, also reacted to the FA’s request. He stated, “I wasn’t in the squad when that game was played, but we should be playing it down,”…”The fans go to support the national team. That happened in that moment and that’s it.”
Instead of bringing the issue out into the open and calling for a change, both players attempt to downplay the 2005 incident.
And the problem does not stop with the fans. One month before the game Spain’s head coach was caught on tape calling Thierry Henry, a “black piece of s***” during a training session. The comment sent shockwaves around the football world. Instead of making an example of the head coach by firing him, the Spanish Football Association allowed the coach to keep his job and fined him only the equivalent of a day’s wages.
No player of color is immune from abuse in Spanish club football, even from his own fans! Espanyol’s Cameroonian goalkeeper Carlos Kameni has suffered much racial abuse, most notably from Atletico Madrid (whose fans are widely considered the most racist in Spanish football) when over 500 fans hurled racist taunts at him during one game. Kameni has also accused his own fans of racially abusing him. In 2005 he was quoted in one newspaper as saying “It is understandable if the fans complain when the team doesn’t play well, but they can’t do these racist acts again and again. I’ve had enough.”
In recent years the racist abuse of one player in Spain has grabbed headlines. Samuel Eto’o, another Cameroonian playing for Barcelona, is widely considered one of the best players in the world. He is treated like a God in Barcelona, but that has not protected him from opposing fans.
In 2006, during a game against Real Zaragoza, Eto’o was racially abused by a small section of fans. When Eto’o went to collect a ball that went out of bounds for a corner right near that section, bottles and peanuts were thrown in his direction and a chorus of monkey chants sprang up. Eto’o, clearly distraught, started to walk off the field shaking his head. The referee stopped the game and ordered Zaragoza officials to announce over the PA system that the racist abuse had to stop or the game would be abandoned.
Racism in Spanish football will not go away until the Spanish Football Association and the European football governing body, UEFA, toughen their response. Fining a team 15,000 Euro’s is little more than pocket change for professional players and clubs in Spain.
A zero tolerance policy must be implemented. Every time a player or coach is convicted of a racist incident he must be fired from his club. Any fan found guilty of racism must be banned from attending games for life. Any club fans who hurl racist abuse towards another team’s players must play their home game behind closed doors. Similar polices have worked in other countries and have drastically limited the amount of racist incidents that occur each year. If Spanish football wants to effectively address racism, it has to take action.