Bananas: World soccer’s anti-racist icon

Fruit thrown as a form of racial abuse of black players now featured in #weareallmonkeys protest selfies

FC Barcelona striker Dani Alves picks up a banana thrown at him during Sunday’s match against Villareal.
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It may seem like an unusual gesture of protest against racism, but selfies posed with bananas featuring celebrity soccer players and the hashtag #weareallmonkeys  or, its Brazilian equivalent, #somostodosmacacos, have gone viral on Monday. The bananagrams are a statement of support for Barcelona and Brazil fullback Dani Alves, who on Sunday responded to Villareal fans throwing a banana onto the field as he was about to take a corner kick — an all too common expression of racist provocation in Europe’s soccer stadiums — by coolly peeling the fruit and taking a bite, before executing the kick.

“You have to take this backwardness with humor,” Alves told Spanish media during a post-match press conference. Later, on his Facebook page, Alves added further commentary: “My father always used to tell me: son, eat bananas because they help avoid muscle cramps.” Alves’ humor provides a novel approach to a problem that continues to plague European soccer and which confounds soccer’s governing bodies in lieu of an effective, sweeping policy to combat bigotry in the sport. And he was quickly copied across social media by Brazil teammates Neymar, Willian, David Luiz and Oscar, as well as dozens of other top-flight players and tens of thousands of fans. After its first hour, the Spanish-language hashtag had appeared on more than 23 million timelines.

Several leagues have fined teams for fans’ racist taunts — to little effect and criticism from the president of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. Last year, for example, the Italian Football Federation fined Roma $65,000 after fans insulted AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli — an Italian international of Ghanaian descent. And other European soccer federations have responded to racist acts by barring fans to certain amounts of home games — also to little effect.

Player frustration at the failure of authorities to tackle the problem boiled over in January of last year, when AC Milan and Ghana star Kevin Prince Boateng led a player walk-off that ended a game after being repeatedly targeted by a section of the crowd making monkey noises.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has criticized the federations’ responses, calling stadium closures “unduly excessive” and “extremely dubious.” Instead, he proposed that teams be docked league points in order to significantly sharpen the incentive to crack down. But thus far there have been no takers, with federations fearing a potentially catastrophic impact on league standing and club revenues in their countries.

With little action by the authorities, most teams have simply been left to express solidarity with the victimized players.

"Barcelona wishes to express its complete support and solidarity with our first team player Dani Alves, following the insults he was subject to from a section of the crowd at El Madrigal on Sunday," FC Barcelona said Monday in a statement. "Barcelona urges all clubs to continue fighting against the blight on the game which any kind of aggression against a sportsperson on the basis of their race represents."

But while the banana selfies channel the expression of players and fans sickened by the persistence of racism in Europe’s soccer stadiums — and help foster a climate of intolerance for racism in the game — they won’t necessarily ease the pressure on the authorities to come up with stronger measures to  stamp out racist behavior in the bleachers. 

With wire services

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