Football game suspended over 'nazi' chants. So, where's the limit?

Unprecedented decision to cancel game brings back long history of unpenalized insults, also involving Catalan clubs

Rayo Vallecano ultras hold up a banner celebrating the fact that they avoided that Roman Zozulya ever played for their club (by Bukaneros)
Rayo Vallecano ultras hold up a banner celebrating the fact that they avoided that Roman Zozulya ever played for their club (by Bukaneros) / Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | Barcelona

December 17, 2019 05:55 PM

On Sunday night, the second division fixture between Rayo Vallecano and Albacete was suspended at half time, when the visiting side chose not to play the second half after chants of “nazi!” from the home crowd directed at one of the Albacete players. 

The home side may yet face a punishment for the anti-fascist chanting, which begs the question, where is the line for La Liga after decades of racist, sexist, and xeophobic chanting from fans across Spanish football, often also involving Catalan players and clubs?

The Albacete player in question was the Ukrainian forward Roman Zozulya, who has many ties with far-right political and paramilitary groups in his homeland. Fans of Rayo Vallecano are known for the anti-racist values, and took exception to the player who almost joined their team in early 2017. For his part, Zozulya and his agent deny he is a nazi, and affirm his political leanings are merely “patriotic.”

Suspending the game was something unprecedented in Spanish football, which leaves far more questions that it provides answers. There are plenty of examples through Spanish football history that could have resulted in the same decision as what happened on Sunday, but didn’t.

Just two weeks prior to this Rayo-Albacete game, Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona was not suspended when the home crowd chanted “Griezmann, die!” at the blaugrana forward. Antoine Griezmann left Atletico Madrid to join Barcleona in the summer, and the fans are obviously not yet ready to welcome him warmly again. The club were fined a total of €301 for the chants.

In 2014, Villarreal-Barcelona was also not suspended when home fans threw a banana at the then-Barça right back Dani Alves. The Brazilian star made headlines for his response - picking the fruit up from the ground and eating it in front of them - but Villarreal were fined a paltry €12,000 for the incident. 

In football stadiums in Spain there is a common chant that many club’s fans sing against the Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué and specifically sexist chants against his wife Shakira. The song also insinuates that his son is illegitimate and that a former Espanyol player is the biological father. No game has ever been suspended over this either. 

During his time in Spain, Samuel Eto’o was routinely abused by rival fans. In the mid 2000s while he was at Barcelona, Real Zaragoza fans regularly chanted monkey noises at the Cameroonian striker, to the point that he celebrated a goal in their stadium by imitating a gorilla. “If they are going to treat me like a monkey, I’m going to dance like a monkey,” he later explained. The following year, the same fans pelted the same player with the same abuse, leading the three-time Champions League winner to begin walking off the pitch in protest. 

Equally, when former Barcelona hero Luis Figo visited the Camp Nou as a Real Madrid player, the home crowd famously abused him at decibel levels rarely heard in a stadium. The match is perhaps best remembered for the imagery of a pig's head sitting on the ground next to the Portuguese star that had been thrown at him by home fans. 

Similarly, there are plenty of examples of common xenophobic chants threatening violence against Basque and Catalan people whenever teams like Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, and Barcelona visit stadiums around Spain. 

After decades of ugly incidents like these, it is only in 2019, when a player has been called a nazi that a football game has been suspended by administrative authorities, while no other game was deemed worthy of similar action in the past.