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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 23:09 GMT
Spain reflects on football racism row
By Katya Adler
BBC Spain correspondent

The racist chanting by Spanish fans at Wednesday night's friendly international in Madrid has embarrassed the government amid fears it could damage the city's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

Shaun Wright-Phillips
Shaun Wright-Phillips was one of several players targeted with abuse
At Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium, a couple of thousand Spanish fans hurled racist abuse at England's black players every time they came near the ball.

The Spanish authorities have condemned the behaviour, but sadly the response came a little late in the day.

It wasn't until Thursday afternoon that the Spanish government released a press statement condemning the football fans' racist chants.

This was several hours after Britain's Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, had demanded some sort of response.

In the statement, the Spanish government said the events were "intolerable" and that it "condemned unequivocally" the behaviour of the "small group" of football fans who acted in such a "regrettable" manner.

Punitive measures

At a press conference on Thursday morning about an unrelated matter, I asked Spain's Sports, Education and Science Minister, Maria Jesus san Segundo, for her reaction to Spanish fans making monkey noises at black football players.

"I think it's unacceptable to behave like that in a football stadium but also in any other walk of life," she said.

Spain fans at Wednesday's friendly
Fifa is to investigate the abuse directed at England's black players
"It shows a lack of education. We're now introducing equality lessons onto the national school curriculum. Young people have to realise that regardless of sex, colour or culture every human being is the same.

"I'm also meeting the [Spanish] secretary of state for sport to discuss possible punitive measures to deal with this sort of thing in the future."

It won't be that easy though. This wasn't a case of right-wing hooligans having a go.

As the centre-left newspaper El Pais noted, the racist chanting came as much from groups of well-heeled young Spanish men in the crowd as from the well-known football thugs labelled the "Ultras".

Played down

On the whole though, repugnance for the appalling show of racism was notably lacking in Spain's newspapers. The incident was reported but rather played down.

Easily as much column space was devoted to criticism of English forward Wayne Rooney's behaviour on the pitch as to the Spanish fans' bad behaviour off it.

Football is always about insulting the other team. The racism wasn't meant seriously
Outside the Bernabeu stadium on Thursday, the reaction was mixed.

Alejandro, a plumber, said the event was being blown out of proportion.

"The kids' chanting last night was stupid but harmless. Football is always about insulting the other team. The racism wasn't meant seriously."

His workmate Miguel agreed: "We Spaniards aren't more racist than any other country. Italy has problems with football and racism, doesn't it? It's much worse than here.

"I mean look at our star players Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid), Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and Ronaldinho (FC Barcelona) - they're not white and we worship them."

'Fans provoked'

Alicia, a production manager, said she thought the Spanish fans' behaviour was much worse than usual because they felt the English press was looking for racism here.

"All the English players arrived here in Spain wearing anti-racism T-shirts, as if this were the most racist country on earth," Alicia said.

"I know this was in response to [Spanish coach] Luis Aragones' remarks a while back. But it was wrong of the English players and the English press to assume we are all like that.

I hate the fact that this is the face of Madrid, of Spain, that was being broadcast the world over
"So I think the fans felt provoked. They thought, 'If they want to see us as racists, then we'll behave as racists.' It's stupid but I think that's what happened."

But Julia, a secretary in her 20s, said she was appalled.

"I'm so upset at what happened. We all know a black player is the same as a white player. There's no difference at all," she said.

Economics student Carlos said: "I was at the match last night and got really angry about what was happening. I hate the fact that this is the face of Madrid, of Spain, that was being broadcast the world over.

"Most of us aren't so narrow-minded. People forget there were 80,000 fans at the stadium. Only a small minority behaved so disgustingly."

'Friendly city'

That was certainly the message that Madrid mayor, Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, was keen to transmit.

"One small group of people cannot be seen as representative of attitudes in Madrid and Spain as a whole," he said.

"Madrid has historically been a city open to the world, a friendly city in which nobody feels like a foreigner."

No doubt concerned about the possible effect on Madrid's bid to host the 2012 Olympics, he added: "Spanish football and other sports clubs have players from many different countries and ethnic groups.

"Here in Madrid alone, citizens from more than 180 different countries live side by side".

Feliciano Mayoral, the president of Madrid's Olympic Bid Committee, said that he "rejects and condemns racism" in any form.

Interview: England & Arsenal's Sol Campbell

Fifa probes Spanish racist chants
18 Nov 04 |  Internationals
Is Spanish football racist?
18 Nov 04 |  Football
Reaction from Spanish press
18 Nov 04 |  Internationals

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