Bermúdez is not confident that will make any immediate difference to the marginalization of the country’s Black community. “There is no discussion about race in Spain,” he said. “It’s still a taboo, or it’s reduced to, ‘This isn’t important, we are all equal.’” Mbomío said she tended to find that most interviews on the subject started with a question: Does racism exist?
Like other soccer leagues in Europe, the Spanish professional league has had incidents of racial abuse. Last year, after his brother, Iñaki, publicly denounced racist insults hurled at him on the field by opponents, Nico Williams spoke of the reality of discrimination but the general acceptance he has felt as the son of Ghanaian immigrants.
“No one is born a racist,’’ Nico Williams told the Spanish newspaper Marca. “With education at home and education in school, I think little by little racism is going to be disappearing.”
Likewise, a visible, undeniable Black presence on the national soccer team is not a panacea. Gerehou, for one, worries that it may function as a version of what has become known as the Obama Effect, shutting down a conversation rather than igniting one, the illusion of change inhibiting an actual transformation.
“There is a risk that people can say, OK, there are Black players in the team, there is no problem,” he said. “It is the same logic that if there is a Black president, then racism must no longer exist. Representation has limits. Things like music and sports are not always a faithful reflection of reality. There might be Black players in the Spain squad, but that does not mean that tomorrow there will be Black directors of banks or Black lawmakers or Black media executives.”
He does, though, see the presence of Black, indisputably Spanish players as a step forward. “It’s important the national team reflects the reality of society,” he said. “We are white and Black and North African and Asian, but we are all Spanish.” For Bermúdez, it is a sign that the country is, at last, starting to “accept and recognize its historical and current diversity.”
Mbomío’s conclusion is slightly simpler. She remembers those tournaments as a child, when she chose not to support the team carrying her flag but her reflection, and how much it would have meant to her not to have had to make that choice. Fati, Baldé, Williams and Sánchez — players who are both Black and Spanish — mean the contrast is not quite so stark. “It is a demonstration,” she said, “that we exist.”