Spanish football was rocked by a racism controversy over the weekend, a case with a lot of similarities to the Glen Kamara case, which I was talking about earlier.
This is in interesting one because it shines a light on UEFA’s decision today, on Celtic’s stance over Tonev and other cases like it.
At the weekend, Valencia were playing Cadiz. 29 minutes into the game, Mouctar Diakhaby, one of Valencia’s central defenders walked off the pitch in protest at what he said was a racist comment directed at him by Juan Cala.
Every single one of us would applaud that stance, but the story becomes complicated in several ways, the first of which is that the referee went into the dressing room and reminded Valencia that although they were correct to take that action, and that the Spanish league permitted it, that the immediate consequences of ending the game would be a 6-0 forfeiture of the match and the possible deduction of three points for failure to complete the fixture.
After the game, Cadiz released a statement saying that any player at any club found to have made racist remarks should be punished to the fullest extent allowed in the regulations.
They are an avowedly political club, with a history of anti-racist initiatives, and a support which, like ours, does not tolerate bigots in the stands … nevertheless, the statement was accompanied by another, from their manager, which reiterated the right to a fair hearing.
“I have to believe my player and I do,” he said.
The following day, Cala himself gave a press conference in which he decried the “lynch-mob” and said that he was being railroaded without evidence. He made threats to sue a number of people who had rushed to judgement and accused him of being a racist.
Valencia stands by its player. A club renowned for their anti-racist stance stands by theirs.
The player who was abused is adamant that it was a racist remark; his team-mates who were in earshot agree that this is what they heard. The accused claims to have been misunderstood. Valencia’s decision to walk off the pitch has been supported by the league … but the club was told that if it decided not to resume the game that they would have been punished for it.
This is how difficult these situations are.
There are two men at the centre of it, and everyone else revolves around it trying to make sense of it. I cannot stomach racism or racists, but it is impossible not to feel sympathy for Cadiz’s players and their management team, their club and their fans, not one of whom did anything wrong here and all of whom are now stained by the allegation that a racist lurks in their midst, and damned by their need to defend him.
Equally, it is impossible not to feel profound dismay for Valencia, who’s players did not respond with aggression or violence but walked from the field in protest on behalf of their stricken team-mate.
That they were more or less forced to complete the match seems abhorrent.
Yet, Spanish football is forced to consider every possibility however dark, and to legislate for that in the rulebook. If clubs are allowed to leave the field, what’s to stop them from manufacturing pretexts for doing so?
It sounds ridiculous right? But it’s not impossible.
This is a ghastly event, as the incident involving Kamara was.
The two clubs have retreated to their separate corners. Valencia did nothing wrong. Cadiz is forced to defend its player, in spite of their left wing political outlook which abhors the behaviour he’s accused of.
The governing body has to stand aloof from the fray and is concerned simply with administering the rules. Aside from the guy who did this – and as with Kamara I’m convinced it happened – nobody is in the wrong.
All are uncomfortable.
We found ourselves in the same position over Tonev.
Do you think Slavia Prague is an institutionally racist club?
They are standing by their player because what else are they supposed to do?
These are individuals at multi-racial, multi-ethnic clubs.
How many times have you heard accusations of racism levelled at players only to have black team-mates back them up?
Let’s try, for a moment, to comprehend this in a different way.
Can we all agree here that if Cala, or Ondrej Kudela or Alexander Tonev were openly bigoted, were openly racist, that nobody would want to share a dressing room with them?
Can we agree that if these three are guilty that they reacted in the heat of a moment in a manner that was disgusting and unacceptable but that it probably doesn’t reflect their wider views?
Listen, one of the reasons I complain about the rush-to-judgement is that we get that rammed at us over and over again.
Remember when Craig Brown was recorded singing sectarian songs down the phone to his girlfriend? How many people did the media bring forth to scorch the idea that he was and is a bigot?
Yet he plainly did something that was bigoted, as Scotland’s national coach that should have cost him his job … but it didn’t, and it didn’t because the media was united in telling us that he was not that kind of man.
We are selective here on what we choose to believe in.
All involved in this are the same.
Look at Kamara’s lawyer, who is determined, it seems to me, not to let UEFA’s investigations take their course; he is demanding a 12-month ban for Kudela if he’s found to have committed a racist offence.
But Anwar defended Tommy Sheridan at his perjury trial, and part of his argument was that you could not trust he-said-she-said evidence.
The evidence against TC Campbell, who Anwar famously freed from his unjust prison sentence, evidence which we know was fabricated, consisted of police statements from individuals who claimed Campbell had “confessed” to the murders of the Doyle family … in that case Anwar proved that the police themselves had invented those quotes to frame an innocent man.
If Anwar now accepts that sort of evidence is enough to not only to throw the book at somebody, but to throw it at them harder than the regulations legislate for, then I wonder how long it will be until his public comments are being used against him in a courtroom if he attempts to reject that sort of proof as meeting the standard in a trial.
It’s not enough to use in a courtroom, but you can end someone’s career over it?
He’s a human rights lawyer; is that really the logic of his position?
I know this; if I were facing a conviction partly on the basis of he-said-she-said I would not hire him to defend me, for precisely that reason.
I cannot say enough times how much I deplore racism and racists.
We would all love to see it eradicated from football and from society.
You can pass all the laws you want, create all the legislation the courts will allow, and we all know that it won’t change what’s in somebody’s head and it won’t prevent some idiot lashing out in thoughtless anger at an identifiable feature of somebody they are pissed off with at a given moment in time.
Our best hope is that we can change minds enough that the bulk of them feel profound self-loathing and disgust for doing so, and voluntarily make restitution … but that’s a long road to walk and a hard thing to ask folk to do. Imagine someone who acted in such a manner immediately owned up to it and professed their shame and regret?
What would we do to that person in the present climate?
Would we opt for punishment or try to find a spark of humanity, and understanding for both the victim and the perpetrator?
We all know the difference between someone’s thoughtless, spur of the moment act and that of a hateful mind-set, but can we set aside partisanship and our societal glee to see our fellow human beings stripped bare of their dignity enough to acknowledge these painful truths?
All I know is that this stuff isn’t getting any better and it isn’t going away, and that means that sanctions and condemnation and the threat of more to come aren’t getting us there and aren’t changing hearts or minds.
We all want solutions, both for the victims and for the rest of us.
Because I don’t want to have to write articles urging understanding for those who commit racist offences any more than Cadiz wants to stand up for a guy who probably did, or the Spanish league wants to punish a club who backed their player after such a diabolical occurrence.
The truth is that there are no winners here; these horrible events force us all of us to confront unpalatable facts and make us question what we’d do if circumstances forced us to pick a side.
This whole issue requires more nuance than is being applied to it.
It requires clear heads.
As emotive as these issues are, we’re not going to resolve them by retreating to those corners and shouting across the ring at each other, any more than we will by getting into the middle of the ring and slugging it out.
There are always two sides to every story, and in a case like these many, many more of them than that.
I feel dreadfully sorry for everyone involved in them, especially the victims, but even for the bigoted fools who prompted them because they either acted outside of their natures in a split second in a way that will echo down through the rest of their lives or they were badly warped somewhere along the way.
My own humanity compels me to feel bad even for them.