Ambiguous reactions in Spain to Real Betis fan chants, which caused dismay outside the country, have again shown how the idea of collective responsibility is missing at most La Liga clubs.
The chants in question relate to a legal case involving Ruben Castro, of Segunda Division club Betis, who will soon appear in court charged with assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend on numerous occasions. Prosecutors want a 25-month custodial sentence given the seriousness of the alleged behaviour.
Not everyone is so appalled however. Chants of “Ruben Castro yay, Ruben Castro yay, it wasn’t your fault, she was a whore, you did the right thing” have been regularly heard at Betis games through recent months as the 34-year-old has scored 16 goals to fuel his team’s promotion push.
Last week, La Liga’s authorities referred the chants to Spain’s ‘anti-violence’ commission, which ordered Betis to identify and ban those responsible. The government body has also taken an unprecedented step in recommending the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) mandate a partial closure of a section of Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarin.
The Seville club’s official reaction was to deplore the chants and say it would expel those responsible. But it also claimed that punishing the club itself, or its fans collectively, would be unfair.
“The punishment proposed against Betis is unjust, discriminatory and opportunist,” club president Juan Carlos Ollero said. “You can see behaviour in the newspapers and internet which is much more serious, without any punishment at all. I don’t want to point to the behaviour of anyone else, but I believe this is not necessary.”
Many Betis fans appeared to take offence and the hashtag #ElBetisSeRespeta [#Betismustberespected] trended on twitter. Verdiblanco defender Bruno also played the issue down, claiming the chants came “from just three or four people, not all our fans”.
Reporters and officials at Betis home games had also, until now, turned a deaf ear to the regular chanting. But this week’s move came amid a crackdown on ‘radical’ fans groups lead by La Liga president Javier Tebas, following a death during a pre-game brawl between ultras from Deportivo La Coruna and Atletico Madrid on November 30 last year.
Followers of Real Madrid, Sevilla, Deportivo, Espanyol, Elche, Athletic Bilbao, Rayo Vallecano and Granada have also been cited by the authorities for “anti-social behaviour” through recent months, with the highest-profile complaint made against members of Barcelona’s ‘Almogavers’ group for singing “Cristiano [Ronaldo] is a drunk” during a game at the Camp Nou.
In that case, Barca first vowed to identify and ban those involved [as Madrid did last year after anti-Lionel Messi chants at the Bernabeu]. However just last Friday, Blaugrana institutional vice-president Jordi Cardoner played down the problem.
“We absolutely support the Penya Almogavers,” Cardoner said. “This group were not responsible for the chants heard. It was very few people involved. I wish that all fans groups in Spain were like the Almogavers.”
It is of course the case that the chants about Ronaldo’s birthday party are nowhere near as serious as those directed at Castro’s former partner. However the official perspective again is similar: only a few misguided individuals were involved, and generally speaking there is nothing to worry about. The same response is also heard when racist chanting is heard in Spanish stadiums, with Betis supporters having a poor reputation in this field too.
Partial closures of grounds, whether at Betis or Barcelona, would now be a positive move. Especially if it forced club officials — and the supposed silent majority of well-behaved supporters — to demand better behaviour all round.
Sections of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu were shut by Uefa earlier this season after Madrid’s ultras had unveiled neo-nazi banners at previous European games. The Spanish FA should now ignore the self-interested pleas of club officials, at Betis and other clubs, and follow this example.
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