It's time La Liga talked about its unspeakable problem with racism

Shahan Ahmed
It's time La Liga talked about its unspeakable problem with racism
It's time La Liga talked about its unspeakable problem with racism

Saturday's reports of alleged racial abuse directed at Barcelona superstar Neymar sadly failed to evoke even a modest level of shock due to Spain's history with these types of incidents.

Had Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta, who is one of the most respected sportsmen in Spain, not acknowledged the racism directly, the issue would have likely been altogether brushed aside and instantly glossed over. After all, the referee failed to even document the abuse in his match report, according to ESPN FC. Likely, this incident will be dismissed because the attitude towards racism is far too casual and tolerated in the Iberian nation.

When asked about the chants aimed at Neymar, Barcelona manager Luis Enrique balked at the opportunity to denounce the alleged actions by supporters of intracity rival Espanyol. And in keeping quiet, with or without intention, Enrique assisted in brushing yet another incident of racial abuse out of sight and out of mind.

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique can help by speaking out against racism. (AFP)
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique can help by speaking out against racism. (AFP)

Enrique declined to comment by commenting, "If I start giving opinions one way or another, I'll get hit from all sides – mind you, I get hit from all sides even when I don’t say anything."

Enrique's non comment illustrated how racism is tolerated in La Liga. The manager implicitly acknowledged that he was aware of what had gone on, but he refused to attack the prehistoric behavior. In many ways, Enrique’s immediate willingness to move on explains why the problem persists in Spain.

The most notable instance of La Liga racial abuse occurred when Barcelona's Dani Alves had a banana hurled at him as he prepared to take a corner kick. Without breaking stride, Alves calmly picked up the banana, peeled it and took a quick bite before continuing with his in-swinging set piece delivery against Villarreal.

After Alves' banana incident in 2014, a viral campaign erupted where people from all walks of life shared pictures of themselves eating bananas with the hashtag “#WeAreAllMonkeys.” That campaign experienced wild success partially because it acknowledged the ridiculousness of the racism being perpetrated.

Unfortunately, a year and a half later, La Liga began 2016 with Espanyol fans racially abusing one of Alves' Brazil teammates, Neymar. Not surprisingly, Espanyol has history acting in this sort of manner. In fact, the club faced a fine for similar monkey chants directed at Alves and Neymar as recently as last April.

Sadly, Spain’s history in this sort of racial abuse is well-documented. Former England international Ashley Cole heard the same sort of monkey chants when he played for England in a friendly at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. Ex-Barcelona forward Samuel Eto’o received such intense racial abuse in Zaragoza that he simply decided he’d had enough, mouthing the words "no mas" in Spanish before trying to walk off the pitch. It took his teammates and head coach, even the opposing players and match referee, to beg him to continue.

Part of the blame for the lack of progress in Spain falls on the silent shoulders of privileged and powerful figures. Respected individuals like Enrique are spurning opportunities to take a stand and bring attention to an issue that stains the international pastime.

Spain features arguably the two best teams on earth playing the “beautiful game” in its purest form. However, the casual acceptance and tolerance of racist abuse often makes La Liga one of the ugliest, saddest leagues on the planet, too.

Shahan Ahmed is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow Shahan on Twitter: @ShahanLA and @perfectpass