Spanish authorities slip up with silence over banana throwing at Dani Alves

Recurring issue of racism in Spanish game comes sharply into focus

As Barcelona defender Dani Alves was about to take a corner during the game at Villarreal on Sunday, a home fan threw a small banana onto the pitch near him in a racist taunt.

The Brazilian player calmly picked the piece of fruit up, peeled it and ate it in one go, before taking the corner with his mouth still full.

It was a swift, seemingly casual action by Alves, but its effect has been enormous, sparking a global campaign on social networks and bringing the perennial issue of racism in Spanish football sharply back into focus. All this in a week when two of the country’s teams – Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid – are battling for a berth in the Champions League final.

Within hours, Alves’s Brazilian colleague Neymar had taken to Twitter in support of his teammate with a picture of himself and his son eating a bananas, with the hashtag #TodosSomosMacacos – meaning, “We’re all monkeys”.


“You have to take it like that, with humour,” said Alves, of his banana-eating protest. “We’re not going to change this easily. I’ve spent 11 years suffering this in Spain and you’ve just got to laugh at those morons.”

Other Brazilian stars around the world have got involved in the Twitter campaign, posting photos of themselves eating bananas, as has Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi. Meanwhile, the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, hailed Alves’s gesture as “a daring and strong response to racism in sport”.

Overall, the whole episode is being seen as a slap in the face for racism. Villarreal have withdrawn the season ticket of the fan who threw the banana and even he has apparently shown remorse, reportedly saying: “I’m not a racist, it was just the heat of the moment.”

And yet, as Alves pointed out, the country does not appear to have made much progress in this area in recent years, despite the large number of black players representing Spain’s top teams.

Some Spanish media commentators have drawn parallels between the Alves case and that of Donald Sterling in the NBA, where the Los Angeles Clippers owner allegedly made racist remarks about black players.

An editorial in El País newspaper compared Spain's response on an official level, to the banana-throwing, unfavourably with that of the US to the Sterling affair, on which president Barack Obama spoke out strongly.

“In Spain the reaction has been (for now, at least,) silence on the part of the sport’s authorities,” the article said. It called for the culprit to be arrested, rather than merely banned from the stadium. “Only then will we be able to say that racism in football stadiums is being stamped out.”

It is 10 years since what was perhaps Spain’s most notorious episode of racism in football, when thousands of Spanish fans in the Bernabéu aimed monkey chants at black English players, days after Spain’s coach Luis Aragonés had been caught on camera making racist remarks about France’s Thierry Henry.

There was no concrete official response to the Bernabéu chants and Aragonés was eventually handed what many saw as a token fine of €3,000 – proof, critics said, that, at the highest level, Spain was unwilling to take action.

Yesterday, the Spanish football federation looked vulnerable to the same charge as the national coach, Vicente del Bosque, said: “In football there is no racism, absolutely not.”

A catalogue of incidents would suggest otherwise. They include Samuel Eto’o threatening to walk off the pitch when playing for Barça against Zaragoza, due to mass monkey chants, in 2006.

More recently, Atlético fans shouted racist abuse at Real Madrid’s Marcelo, who was with his young son, after a derby game this season.

Many feel the clubs themselves should clamp down. Ironically, Villarreal’s fans were voted the best in the Spanish second division last season.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain