why, spanish fans?

Posted on February 8, 2008

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While the US finally seems to be on the road to healing from its history of slavery by undergoing a revolution that could propel a black man towards the White House, Spain has unfortunately allowed racism to rear its ugly head again recently.

British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton was at the receiving end of racist taunts while test-driving at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona a few days ago.

Not only were there rude words and gestures directed at the 23-year old star who is the circuit’s first driver with black heritage, a group of hecklers went as far as to wear wigs, dark make-up and signs that said “Hamilton’s family”.

No doubt Spanish fans are paying Hamilton back for the well-publicized bad-blood he had with former McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso, who is Spanish. Alonso had publicly stated that the constructor favored Hamilton.

But this is not the first time Spanish sports fans have displayed such ugly behavior. Black British footballers were also jeered when they played in Madrid in 2004. One of them, Rio Ferdinand, has called for tougher action to be taken against the fans’ boorish behavior.

Thankfully, Britain’s sports minister is on the case, writing to the Spanish government to express anger. Motorsports’ governing body, the FIA, has also threatened Spain with the loss of both of its F1 grand prix races, as punishment for the racist behavior of its fans. “We are surprised and disappointed at the abuse,” stated an FIA spokesman. “This is a clear breach of FIA principles and any repetition will result in serious sanctions.”

The Spanish motorsports federation were quick to offer their mea culpa but limited it to a condemnation of the bigots.

“The Federation wants to show its absolute repulsion at these incomprehensible incidents and demonstrate its support and solidarity for the McLaren team and especially their driver Lewis Hamilton,” it said in a statement. “This type of idiots that are confusing sporting rivalry with violence should be aware that the Federation has a zero-tolerance approach to this issue.”

Nice of them to throw out a statement but how about a more serious attempt to ban bigots?

It is disturbing that such racist behavior exists on such a regular basis, especially in a country like Spanish, which has a good mix of immigrants and different races. Interestingly, Spain is one of the few countries in the European Union whose citizens are still open to an influx of immigrants, as it continues to enjoy a strong economy, recently overtaking Italy in GDP per head.

But it has to make a bigger effort to stop such shameful attitudes and behavior of its people.

Ban those who are caught in the act of bigotry from ever attending a test-drive session again, let alone a championship match.

The sports’ governing bodies, be it FIA or FIFA in the case of football, could do more than fine the offending countries – they should strip them of the privilege to be the stage of the biggest games.

Players who are the target of the racist abuses should also fight back and insist on tougher action against offenders and countries.

And most of all, the likes of Hamilton and Ferdinand should win in their respective sports, which would be a great “take that” to their detractors and be the sweetest revenge against bigotry.

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