_
_
_
_
OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

In the chimp seats

Racism in Spain’s soccer stadiums has to be seen as everybody’s problem before progress can be made

Interesting how Leo Messi's apparent insult this week directed at Aitor Karanka, the assistant coach of Real Madrid, has generated far more fuss in Spain than the complaints of Dani Alves about racism in Spanish soccer. When Messi called Karanka the "puppet of Mourinho" it offended some, and amused others. Another anecdote in the childish rivalry between two privileged teams.

But the question of racism in the stadium ought to be a cause for concern at all levels of society, independently of which team you are a fan and even of whether you are a fan at all. But it is not a cause for concern, and there is no sign of it being any time soon. As Dani Alves put it -- after the Barcelona-Madrid match, in which Bernabéu fans made chimpanzee noises every time the black player touched the ball -- "it's a lost battle."

The inevitable reaction of many Madrid fans was to interpret his words as another salvo in the verbal war between the clubs. They seem not to have heard what he said. "It isn't something occasional that just happens there," said Alves in reference to the Bernabéu, "It happens in all of the stadiums." He added: "The Bernabéu is not one of the stadiums where I feel most abused. There are worse ones. It's general in Spain. I already saw it in Seville. Ever since I came to Spain."

Far worse than the drivel that has been said about Alves' serious observations, was the answer attributed to Manolo Sanchís. Perhaps he was quoted wrongly, a failure to communicate. Let's hope so. Because what one read was that the former Real player said on the Cope radio station that Alves was a "great player. But off the field he is none too bright; I don't like what he said." That is, a legend of Real Madrid gives the green light to racism. Let's hope, I repeat, that they got this wrong, or out of context… or something.

It is true, too, that Alves' words would carry more weight if he denounced the same racist monkey noises when they are heard in his own club's stadium, the Camp Nou. Marcelo, his fellow Brazilian and a Madrid winger, has suffered such noises from Barcelona fans and, as far as is known, Alves has had nothing to say about them. Nor would it have been out of place if Michael Essien, the Madrid player from Ghana, had seconded Alves' remarks. Better yet, if all the players of both teams, regardless of race, had made common cause with him. And the presidents of all the clubs, too. But no. Total silence.

Zero tolerance

Alves proposed the imposition of "severe punishments to put an end to this cancer of soccer," adding that the authorities "ought to give an example, and look to England." There, he said, "the measures are harsh."

They are. In English soccer there is zero tolerance for racism, on and off the field. If the same rules were applied in Spain, the jails would be full and the stadiums even emptier. In England the fan seen on television making offensive gestures to a black player is sought out, arrested and put on trial. Last season there were 23 cases; in the previous one, 43.

A law is useful only with the backing of society. In England this exists. So much so, that the main inhibition to racist behavior is not the threat of police action, but the opprobrium of people who are sitting around you. In Spain this behavior is tolerated and, it seems, even defended. In England it means you are viewed as an animal.

There is no comparison between the racism in English stadiums and Spanish ones; but even so, last year a British parliamentary committee published a report on this matter admitting there were still "significant problems," while noting there had been "huge" improvements since the 1970s and 1980s. In Spain, where pigs will fly before a parliamentary committee investigates racism in soccer, we are still in the Stone Age.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
_
_