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La Liga

LaLiga: Football’s racism problem continues

The image of Mouctar Diakhaby watching on alone from the stands could define an incident for years to come. The Valencia player had accused Cadiz’s Juan Cala player of racism, and in solidarity his Los Che teammates left the pitch. What happened in those minutes isn’t yet clear, but Valencia would return to the playing surface to complete the match whilst the Frenchman didn’t.

It was, although there hasn’t yet been confirmation of what was said, yet another sorry incident that has marked both football and society in recent years.

Whilst the days of completely overt racism appear to have disappeared from our football stadiums, there is an uncomfortable level of racial abuse seeping its way back into the forefront of the game’s eye, perhaps it never left.

Diakhaby isn’t the only player to suffer from racist abuse this season, nor is he the only player to suffer from racist abuse this weekend, and the sad thing is, he won’t be the last.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Davinson Sanchez was the target of racially motivated hate-comments in the aftermath of a mistake-riddled performance in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Newcastle United on Sunday.

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Spain’s shameful history with racism in football

It might be difficult to remember much football beyond the years of this millennium, but perhaps the two most striking instances of racism in the public eye have actually come from Spain.

England’s black players were targeted mercilessly with monkey chants in an international match in Madrid, whilst Luis Aragones was fined 3000 euros by the Spanish Football Federation for targeting Thierry Henry with a racially motivated slur.

The domestic game in Spain hasn’t escaped the clutches of racism either, even before Sunday’s latest sorry episode.

Marcelo, Dani Alves and Samuel Eto’o all suffered similar abuse from crowds, with Alves infamously eating a banana that had been thrown towards him from the stands at Villarreal.

This isn’t a Spanish problem

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In spite of the above, football’s racism pandemic isn’t a Spanish problem, it’s a societal problem that reaches far more of the globe than people are comfortable admitting.

England has long claimed to have ‘the best league in the world’, but they too have seen racist incidents soar in the last two years, with Manchester City fans making monkey gestures at Fred and Marcus Rashford and a middle-aged Chelsea supporter being seen on live television hurling horrific abuse at Raheem Sterling as he went to take a corner.

There is also the small matter of John Terry, the England captain at the time, being found guilty of racial abuse of the civil standard by a Football Association enquiry back in 2012. However, it must be stated that in the criminal case Terry was found not guilty.

What happens now?

The uncomfortable reality is that it’s difficult to see what will change in the immediate future, especially in the midst of reports that Valencia were essentially forced into returning to the pitch on Sunday, although that is yet to be substantiated.

We thought that the stoppage of the international qualifier between England and Bulgaria in Sofia was a game-changing moment. It wasn’t.

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We thought that Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir leaving the pitch after Pierre Webo was the victim of alleged racial abuse from a match official in a Champions League match was a game-changing moment. It wasn’t.

The parameters keep shifting yet the racism continues. Until there are actual punishments which force clubs and football associations to effectively police their own fans and players, this problem will continue.

The Bulgarian FA were fined 75,000 euros, a fee which was infinitely lower than the gate receipts from that match with England, whilst Russian clubs in European competitions have played more matches behind closed doors than they have with fans in attendance. Yet, the problem persists.

Football can’t defeat racism, in much the same way it can’t end world hunger. Football is an arena where racism is displayed, not where it is cultivated or learned. This is what makes the lack of action across the board so galling.

There is no reason to protect these people found guilty of such abuse, it isn’t a stain on football to punish them properly, and the sooner FIFA and UEFA realise that the better.

Unfortunately, until we see points docked and repeat offending teams thrown out of tournaments, these awful incidents will continue to play out, and we will see more harrowing images of human beings like Diakhaby watching football matches alone in the stands.

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