An amateur soccer team in southern Spain with a majority of players who are migrants from Africa took a stand against the racist abuse they encounter from rival athletes and fans.
The Jerez de la Frontera-based Alma de África side replaced names on the back of players’ jerseys with the racial slurs that are often shouted at them for Sunday’s final Tercera Andaluza division game of the 2018-2019 season.
The terms included the Spanish terms for “gorilla,” “slave” and “illegal.”
Midfield player Eric Josué Amang, who left Cameroon for Spain in 2013, told El País newspaper that “we did it to tell everyone that we are not criminals.”
“We are people and we are not bothering anybody,” said Amang, who played in the side’s 6-1 home loss to Algaida with the word “Monkey” emblazoned on his shirt.
“We want to be respected,” he added. “We are in the 21st century and I don’t understand how they can still say these insults. We are fed up with being disrespected.”
Former professional soccer player Alejandro Benítez founded the club in 2015. Its name translates to “Soul of Africa.”
Alma de África’s players currently hail from 12 different countries.
Nigeria, Bolivia, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and Morrocco have all been represented at one time or another in the side’s brief history. Some players are reportedly undocumented. There are five Spaniards involved.
“We built the team around those African immigrants,” Benítez, who is now a real estate agent and acts as the club’s president, told Public Radio International in 2018. “Some migrants associations in Jerez told us to include Spanish players to promote the integration from within.”
“I invest a lot of family and work time in these players,” Benítez added. “I do it voluntarily because I believe I have a responsibility towards them. My reward is their happiness and the fact they have the chance to feel equal to everyone else here.”
It’s not been announced whether players will wear the same jerseys next season. Club representatives did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment.
The International Organization for Migration (OIM) estimated that more than 57,000 undocumented migrants arrived in Spain in 2018.
The issue of immigration has become a political flashpoint for the country in recent years. The far-right political party Vox campaigned on a fiercely anti-immigration ticket and gained 24 parliamentary seats in April’s general election, which was won by the ruling socialist PSOE party but without a majority.
Racist abuse is still endemic in Spanish soccer, even in its most high-profile leagues ― such as in 2014, when a banana was thrown at Barcelona’s Brazilian star Dani Alves.
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