Dani Alves, the banana and fighting racism in football and beyond

By Tash Shifrin | 2 May 2014

One incident in a football match has opened the way for campaigners against racism in Spanish football and, more widely, in the Spanish state. The hero is the brilliant Brazilian attacking full back Dani Alves, who plays for Barcelona.

If you haven’t seen the video yet, you really should. Alves is about to take a corner but a racist in the crowd has thrown a banana – an internationally recognised racist gesture. With scarcely a pause, Alves picks up the banana, opens it, eats it – and takes the corner.

The best bit of the video is the way Alves doesn’t even look at the banana as he eats it – all his concentration is on his teammates and where he is going to ping the ball in. It’s a wonderful spur of the moment gesture, dissmissive and contemptuous of the racist’s action.

Dani Alves is the coolest man in football.

I don’t believe anyone should have to do this, though. I would have supported Alves whatever his reaction to racism from the crowd had been. I don’t think we should demand that black players behave with restraint, cleverness or in any other prescribed way in the face of racist provocation.

No one should be expected to remain calm in this situation – it is racists who are to blame, not black footballers. Walk off the pitch, chuck the banana back, smack a racist in the crowd, I don’t care. Whatever Alves had done, I’d have backed him.

I particularly admired Kevin Prince Boateng’s response to repeated racist chanting at a friendly match in Italy – he booted the ball into the stands, took off his shirt and led his AC Milan teammates off the field.

I have a feeling that if more games were just stopped – by officials or through players’ action – in response to racist abuse, that would swiftly make racists undesirable in football crowds in many parts of Europe where monkey chanting and banana throwing is still seen as acceptable.

But as it happens, Alves’s gesture touched a chord. Brazil and Barcelona teammate Neymar tweeted a picture of himself and his kid eating bananas with the hashtag #weareallmonkeys in four languages. Immediately, footballers, celebrities and others followed suit.

This use of banana and monkey imagery might seem backward or at least discomfitting in Britain, where throwing bananas or making monkey noises is widely seen as completely unacceptable – you wouldn’t start an antiracist campaign here in that way. But where racists commonly use such imagery, its subversion as an antiracist statement has real power.

This can be seen in the way grassroots campaigners have picked up the banana theme to spread the anti-racist message in local communities.

Children at La Plana Institute, a school in Vic, Catalunya, demonstrate against racism.

Children at La Plana Institute, a school in Vic, Catalunya, demonstrate against racism.

The antifascist campaign Unitat Contra el Feixisme i el Racisme, the sister organisation of Unite Against Fascism in Catalunya, is circulating the picture above.

School students and staff at La Plana Institute, a school in Vic, Catalunya, got together in the playground to show their opposition to racism. Vic is a town that has been a stronghold of the fascist Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC) party – it still has five councillors there, although local antifascists whose campaign has already seen the PxC dump its leader, are hoping to get these kicked out at the next local elections.

Now antiracists and antifascists are getting a different message across. Headteacher Collel Dolores said:

In this school there is no racism, and today we say: look how many different skin colors and how we all live together.

You can watch a nice video report here (Catalan). Alves’s quicksilver thought has created a way to bring people together and be confident and proud anti-racists. As Alves put it in a BBC interview:

I hope that this (campaign) can be an alert to ban this kind of attitude from football altogether. I hope the debate about racial prejudice will not fade away, but stays on permanently and not be restricted only to football.

Just a brief afterword: it is easy for people in Britain to be complacent about racism in football. Here, banana throwing and monkey chanting – big in the 1970s and 80s – are now very rare. But not so long ago, Italian team Lazio came to play my team – Tottenham Hotspur – at White Hart Lane in a Europa league match.

I usually go to the Lane for home games, but this time for some reason I was unable to. I watched on telly. The monkey chanting directed by Lazio “fans” at Spurs’ black players, including Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend, could be clearly heard, even on TV.

Absolutely nothing happened. The police did not remove the monkey chanters, the officials did not stop the match. UEFA chief Michel Platini was at the game, but this did not prompt any action against the racists that night. This was a televised European game, at a Premiership ground in 2012. My team carried on playing without protest.

Later, UEFA imposed a paltry fine. That’s not good enough. The response of a Premiership football club on the night was not good enough, regardless of the fact that the racists were not our own fans but Lazio’s.

We could all do with a bit of the Dani Alves spirit.


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