Spanish police said Wednesday they have laid criminal charges against a football fan for throwing a banana at Barcelona defender Dani Alves, a slur that has sparked a global storm of anti-racist protest.
The Spanish authorities arrested the young man Tuesday, two days after the ugly incident put racism in Spanish football under a harsh spotlight, unleashing condemnation worldwide including from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
The suspect, who has been named and pilloried on social media but has not been identified by the authorities, was charged on the same day with an offence against civil rights and liberties before being released, a police spokeswoman said.
If found guilty, he could face a sentence of up to three years in prison.
The banana landed on the pitch near the 30-year-old Brazilian international as he was about to take a corner during Barcelona’s away match against Villareal on Sunday night.
Alves won praise for his reaction, picking up the banana to take a bite before getting on with the game and setting up a goal in Barcelona’s dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory.
Villarreal condemned the incident and said they had identified the culprit, withdrawing his club membership and permanently banning him from their ground.
“The player Dani Alves gave a daring and strong response to racism in sports,” Brazil’s leader said in a series of Twitter messages after the match.
Blatter also reacted on Twitter, saying: “What @DaniAlves2 tolerated last night is an outrage. We must fight all forms of discrimination united. Will be zero tolerance at #World Cup.”
The FIFA boss spread his anti-racism message Wednesday to the United States after the NBA banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life for racist comments.
– No to racism –
“Sport says no to racism. I fully support @NBAâ€™s decision to ban @LAClippers owner for life after his racist words,” Blatter said.
Much of the football world stood behind Alves.
Outraged at his teammate’s treatment, Neymar posted on Twitter with the hashtag #somostodosmacacos, (we are all monkeys).
He then sent a photo showing him eating a banana holding his two-year-old son, who was clutching a banana-shaped soft toy.
Chelsea’s Brazilian stars Oscar, David Luiz and Willian also posted to social media while Manchester City’s Argentinian star Sergio Aguero tweeted a picture of himself and Brazilian five-time world female player of the year Marta both eating a banana.
Football’s world and European governing bodies FIFA and UEFA have repeatedly tried to campaign against racism and last November, Blatter said he was “sickened” to see some Real Betis supporters make monkey chants at their own player, Brazilian defender Paulao, in a city derby against Sevilla.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said Tuesday he regretted that some people had used football to launch a racist message.
“It is not everyone. I want to think these are isolated incidents. In football there is no racism, not at all,” Del Bosque said, ruling out any impact on the Spain team from the fallout of the scandal.
In an interview with AFP, Alfredo Relano, the editor of major sports daily AS, said many people in Spain did not believe there was any racism because in the past there had been relatively few people of other races in the country.
“As people from elsewhere have been coming in, it has started showing up,” he said, referring to the banana-throwing slur as “unacceptable”.
“I think there is racism in Spain and we have to fix it. The strong reaction from outside was very present in England some time ago and they followed it up very seriously. I think we have to follow it up with rigour.”