Alves peels banana and opens debate

A Villarreal fan throwing a banana at Barcelona’s Dani Alves last weekend may have – inadvertently – helped the battle against a deeply-rooted problem of racism in Spanish football.

Alves peels banana and opens debate

Most people now know that Alves picked up the banana, peeled it and ate it, mainly because of the phenomenally successful ‘#weareallmonkeys’ campaign started by fellow Brazilian Neymar immediately after the game.

High profile stars including Sergio Aguero, David Luiz and Mario Balotelli quickly got involved in the ‘banana selfie’ movement, which had been planned in advance in consultation with marketing experts. Support even came from Brazil president Dilma Rousseff and UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon.

Such an international response has shocked the system in Spain, where such racist incidents are regularly swept under the carpet. In January, Atletico Madrid supporters sang ‘Marcelo is a monkey’ at the Real Madrid player after a game at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Real Betis defender Paulao was abused by his club’s fans during a defeat by Sevilla in November. Last season Alves was targeted by the Madrid crowd during a Copa del Rey clash at the Bernabeu. All these incidents brought a short initial media outcry, but when that died down no punishments were imposed against either the clubs or individuals involved.

But the external focus brought by Alves and Neymar’s campaign has caused a rethink. Barcelona issued a club statement offering “total support and solidarity” to Alves. Villarreal identified the thrower and banned him for life from attending games. Local police then charged the 26-year-old David Campayo with breaching rarely enforced hate-speech laws.

This reaction has not pleased everyone in Spain however. Villarreal president Fernando Roig said his club should not be punished, and denied that racism was common in Spanish football.

“This is an isolated incident,” Roig said. “It is not fair to call fans, or a country, racist because of one guy’s actions.”

Campayo’s family and friends went further, with 800 people gathering to protest at the media coverage of the incident. “(Campayo) is no racist nor a violent person, this was just the fruit of an angry moment,” a spokesperson told Marca. “He does not deserve this continuous media lynching.”

The use of the word ‘lynching’ was particularly unfortunate, and showed how many around La Liga – from fans to administrators — do not understand the seriousness of the issues involved. Gonzalo Miro, a panelist on La Sexta football talk show El Chiringuito, explained on the night of the game that what some see as racist abuse was really just banter from fans.

“It is true that we often call them ‘monkey’ or ‘this Portuguese etc etc’,” Miro said. “But I do not believe the fans are all racists, they just want to get stuck into a rival player. In the same game I have seen Atletico fans shouting at (Real Madrid’s) Marcelo, and applaud (their own player Luis) Perea.”

This attitude might strike many as strange, or wrong, but it is widely held in Spain, and not just within football. Alves has suffered regular racist abuse through his 11 years playing in La Liga, and even been criticised for speaking about the issue in the past. He and Neymar decided enough was enough after they suffered abuse at Espanyol in March, and worked with professional marketing experts to design a campaign which was put into action last week. The 29-year-old told BBC Brasil that this time the impact had been different.

“I didn’t expect so many people to get involved,” he said. “It didn’t happen on other occasions when racism was denounced. With Neymar it has more force, and I’m happy with the repercussions.”

One social media campaign will not completely change attitudes which have festered for so long, but the #weareallmonkeys was a giant step in the right direction.

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