by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar July 6th 2008
On February 26th 2006 Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o decided that enough was enough. Eto’o had also been monkey-chanted at Real Saragossa’s La Romareda stadium the previous season. He scored on that occasion and celebrated the goal by mimicking a monkey. It had no effect on the bigots. Disgusted by the persistent monkey-chanting and peanut-throwing racists in 2006 Eto’o decided that he would take no more.
He had to be persuaded not to leave the pitch by players of both teams and Barcelona’s then head coach, Frank Rijkaard. The incident put Spanish football in the dock again. Almost three months to the day earlier, Benfica’s Ivorian international defender Marc Zoro – then playing for Messina – was reduced to tears by racist abuse from fans of Internazionale of Milan in the Sicilian club’s San Filippo Stadium.
Zoro picked the ball up and approached the officials. His decision to continue was greeted with applause. Eto’o received more abuse. FIFA had had enough. Tough sanctions for racist conduct followed.
Article 55 of FIFA’s Disciplinary Code was amended to show that racism would not be tolerated. For a first offence clubs would face a fine of 30000 Swiss Francs. They would also have to play their next home match behind closed doors. And three points would be deducted. A second offence would cost the offender six points and if there was a third offence the club would be automatically relegated.
If no points were at stake, such abuse would result in disqualification. Last season French Ligue Deux team Bastia was docked a point for the persistent racist abuse of Libourne Saint Seurin’s Burkina Faso-born striker Boubacar Kébé. No Spanish team has faced Article 55 punishment despite incidents occurring that warranted it last season and the previous one too.
Nevertheless, Senna does not believe that Spain is racist. Nor does he think that Spanish fans are racist, but he is far from soft on racism. “I agree with the initiative [the amended Article 55 of FIFA’s Disciplinary Code],” says Senna. “We have to stop racism from growing. We are all human beings and everyone is equal. People should not be judged for the colour of their skin.”
And Senna supports the work of Spain’s Anti-Violence Commission as well. He says, “We have to fight against violence, racism and xenophobia wherever it appears.”
The President of the Real Federación Español de Fútbol (RFEF)1 Ángel María Villar Llona addressed the Spanish Senate’s Special Commission to investigate the Eradication of Racism and Xenophobia from Spanish Sport in 2006. Villar Llona has steadfastly backed Luís Aragonés, insisting that the former Spanish international and head coach is no racist.
After a poor World Cup, Aragonés was rewarded with a contract extension. Spain also had a bad start to its campaign to qualify for the European Championship of 2008. Aragonés was under pressure because of poor results, rather than racism, but Spain not only qualified under Aragonés, but used the tag of under-achievement to motivate his team all the way to winning the European Championship at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna on June 29th 2008.
Unequivocal Opposition to Racism
Senna unequivocally opposes racism. So does he think that his adopted country has done enough to combat racism? “I don’t know if they (the RFEF) has done enough to combat racism in football in the past,” he says, “but they are doing it now. Racism has to be stamped out.”
Villar Llona has consistently maintained his position that racism is not really a problem in Spanish football. He told the Special Commission that racism was an insult to Spanish society and football, but there were only isolated incidents perpetrated by a minority.
He believed that it had to be confronted and said that both the clubs and RFEF had to work with players, community organisations and immigrants’ organisations to eradicate racism and xenophobia. He also wanted to use football idols to get the message through. He admitted that previous efforts had not been successful and that they had made mistakes. So why have they failed to ask Senna to front such efforts?
Among the players racially abused by Getafe fans previously is Eto’o – a player Senna clearly admires, both as a footballer and as a person. “Samuel is a player everyone would want in their team,” said Senna. “He scores lots of goals. He is a man of integrity. If he is protesting against racism, it is with good reason. I support his fight. It has to be stopped. I hope that he won’t have to suffer racism ever again and that he will soon go back to scoring plenty of goals.”
Senna’s club Villarreal leads the way with a tough anti-racist policy – one that demonstrates no tolerance of racist chanting or acts, which Senna fully supports. No black player has ever been monkey-chanted in Villarreal’s El Madrigal stadium, where he plies his trade and there is good reason for that.
Villarreal has no truck with racism. Posters are prominently displayed saying that ‘No racist behaviour will be tolerated in the Madrigal Stadium,’ and that offenders ‘will be identified and face consequences in accordance to Spanish law.’
These posters can be seen all over the stadium in both Spanish and English. Nobody has been prosecuted yet as there have not been any racist incidents. Empower-Sport Magazine commends Villarreal for their forward thinking approach. The initiative was the idea of the local police in the town of Vila-real, where the club is based. Villarreal was happy to adopt the policy. Others would do well to pay attention to it, both in and out of Spain.
1 It translates as the Royal Federation of Spanish Football.