TIME Football

Brazilian Soccer Star Fights Racism With a Brilliant PR Move

Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final
Neymar looks on during a match between Atlético Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderón Stadium in Madrid on April 9, 2014 Laurence Griffiths—Getty Images

When Barcelona star Dani Alves ate a banana thrown at him as a racist taunt, his teammate Neymar sprang into action. The resulting social-media campaign exploded around the world — and could teach the sport's governing body a thing or two about tackling bigotry

Barcelona soccer star Neymar certainly knows how to grab headlines.

Within hours of teammate Dani Alves eating a banana thrown at him by a racist fan in Spain, Neymar had launched an Internet campaign against racism and placed himself at the center of an international outrage. It might have looked like a spontaneous response to the abuse meted out at Alves, but in fact it was a carefully choreographed campaign planned in advance by his PR team.

The idea of a concerted response to racism arose earlier this month after Neymar himself was subjected to abuse during a match against Granada. He and his PR team wanted to take the sting out of the word monkey frequently used against black players in Spain, and together they came up with a concept and a hashtag and were just waiting for the right moment to launch it online. Enter Alves.

“We were already talking about it, and when Dani ate the banana we thought it made sense to launch the campaign,” Guga Ketzer, partner at the Loducca PR agency, told Brazil’s UOL portal. “The timing was perfect.”

Neymar and Alves are perfect poster boys for an antiracism campaign. Good friends and teammates at both club and international levels, the Brazilian players have both suffered abuse and are frequent users of social media. Neymar has 10.4 million followers on Twitter and 4.7 million on Instagram; Alves has 4.2 million and 1.7 million, respectively. The campaign was simple, with Neymar posting a picture of himself and his young son holding bananas, and encouraging fans to follow suit using the hashtag #somostodosmacacos (we are all monkeys).

“It’s a disgrace that prejudice still exists in 2014,” Neymar wrote on his blog. “It’s time that we said enough is enough. My way of helping bring an end to this once and for all is to do what Dani Alves did today!!”

And so thousands of fans did too, photographing themselves eating bananas and posting the images on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Soccer stars and celebrities also got involved. Among those who joined the online campaign were fellow footballers Roberto Carlos, David Luiz and Sergio Aguero, singer Michael Teló and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Mark it down as a lesson for FIFA, soccer’s governing body, as it struggles to find ways to stamp out racist chants and abuse from its international fan base. Another smartly timed publicity campaign engineered by the players themselves and aimed at younger fans could bear similar fruit.

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