It is amazing to many that in the beautiful game of soccer you can still find racism. It is the twenty-first century and from athletes to fans, racism is still a central topic that reared its ugly head this weekend in the Spanish League.
When FC Barcelona defender Dani Alves headed to the flag for a corner kick against Villarreal on Sunday, a spectator threw a banana at the Brazilian star. The banana was intended as a derogatory statement towards Alves. The Barcelona defender handled it in stride by picking the banana up and taking a bite from it, later joking on social media that his father always told him to eat bananas to reduce cramping.
It is not just the Spanish stadiums that are seeing these racist acts. Many European countries have seen their stadiums turn into soap boxes for racists and neo-Nazis to push their hatred. Stadiums have seen signs and banners from fans that are hateful either towards a specific player or a team or an entire ethnic group. In some cases anytime a black player touches the ball the crowd in the stadium would boo or hiss. Derogatory remarks from players on the pitch to opposing players take place in many games. On field racist actions have resulted in card drawing fouls to all out brawls.
And racism in soccer is not always against the visiting players or their team. There was an incident of an Italian teams supporters that started a racist chant against their own player who was black when he entered a game. In 2013 soccer in Europe was plagued by numerous incidents of racism. FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, had to step in. FIFA has stated that if a team breaks a Zero Tolerance Rule on racism they could face a fine or have the teams next game be played in a stadium without any fans. A second offense could result in a loss of points or the team can be expelled from a tournament. However, with the recent racial incidents, it does not appear that the Zero Tolerance Rule means anything unless enforced.
During the World Cup this summer, FIFA has stated that there will zero tolerance for racism. Fans could be removed from stadiums and teams could be penalized if the zero tolerance rule is broken. The World Cup is a time for all nations to come together. Stadiums will be filled with numerous races and ethnic groups and the game of soccer is the hope of the governing body to unite everyone and put hatred and racism on the back burner.
This latest incident and the concerns over safety in Brazil for the upcoming tournament could put FIFA under a microscope. FIFA will have to be firm on the Zero Tolerance rule, and if a team does get penalized, the already fragile situation in Brazil could turn into a powder keg of violence. With gangs and police fighting for control of the slum neighborhoods and some of the host cities running out of money and concerned about security for the summer tournament adding the potential for racial issues is a headache no one wants to see happen.
Soccer is not the only sport to be fighting with racism in today’s world. As the NBA playoffs are underway, racism has brought a dark cloud over the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. Retired Russian figure skater Irina Rodnina who was one of two sports stars from the Olympic host country tweeted a photo of United States President Barak Obama was labeled racist by many. The hope is that anyone who is the target of racism in any sport can handle it with the grace of Alves. Just peel the banana and take a bite.
Commentary by Carl Auer