Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff praised soccer player Dani Alves for his “bold and strong” response to a fan who threw a banana at the Barcelona defender as he prepared to take a corner kick in a Spanish league game.
Alves, 30, who plays for Brazil’s national team, picked up the banana, peeled it and ate it before taking the corner as Barcelona came from two goals down to defeat Villarreal 3-2.
Video of the incident two days ago went viral, with athletes and politicians offering their support. Neymar, Alves’s teammate for Barcelona and Brazil, posted a photo on Twitter showing him and his infant son posing with bananas. Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, followed suit yesterday.
“Dani Alves gave a bold and strong response to racism in sports,” Rousseff wrote on her Twitter account.
The Alves incident came as the National Basketball Association probed racist remarks attributed by website TMZ to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. On the recording, TMZ said, Sterling told a girlfriend not to bring black people to his team’s games.
Rousseff has spoken of using the World Cup, which begins June 12 in Sao Paulo, to help combat racism in soccer. She spoke out in February when every move by midfielder Tinga Cruise, a midfielder with Brazilian team Cruzeiro, was met by monkey chants by fans of Peruvian team Real Garcilaso.
“Brazil in the World Cup raises the banner of combating racial discrimination,” Rousseff wrote. “Let’s show our strength in football and in life comes from our ethnic diversity and take pride in it.”
The fan who threw the banana was identified by Villarreal. “Thanks to the security forces and the invaluable assistance of the Villarreal fans, the club have identified the culprit and decided to withdraw their season ticket and ban them from entering El Madrigal stadium for life,” Villarreal said in a statement.
“We have suffered this in Spain for some time,” said Alves, who’s been subjected to racist abuse on other occasions during his 12-year career in Spain. “You have to take it with a dose of humor.”
Soccer authorities are starting to take a tougher line on racism in stadiums. Last year, UEFA said players found guilty of discriminatory behavior in its games face minimum 10-game bans, while the European governing body also has ordered stadium closures after incidents involving fans.
“What Alves tolerated is an outrage,” Sepp Blatter, president of global soccer body FIFA, wrote on Twitter. There “will be zero tolerance at #WorldCup.”