Valencia’s La Liga match against Cádiz on Sunday was suspended for 20 minutes after Valencia walked off the pitch in solidarity when one of its players said he was subjected to racist abuse from a Cadiz player.
The alleged incident took place around the 30 minute mark as Valencia defender Mouctar Diakhaby clashed with Cádiz’s Juan Cala, according to the referee’s report.
In a video of the match, Diakhaby appears to be angry following their exchange and followed Cala across the pitch, where he was eventually restrained by some of his teammates and opposition players.
As Diakhaby was led away, Cala could be seen covering his mouth with his hand as he spoke to his coach on the touchline.
Following a conversation with his teammate Gabriel Paulista and the match referee, Diakhaby led the rest of his Valencia teammates off the pitch and down the tunnel.
In a tweet just after the incident, Valencia said it offered its “complete backing” to Diakhaby.
“The player, who had received a racial insult, requested that his teammates return to the pitch,” it wrote. “WE SUPPORT YOU MOUCTAR.”
Valencia eventually returned to the pitch to continue the match, but in a statement after the game said it only did so under “threat” of being punished.
Valencia captain José Gayà said the team was told they would face a points deduction if they did not continue with the match, a sanction that could be imposed by La Liga.
“The Club did not ask the players to return to the pitch,” Valencia wrote. “The referee informed the players of the consequences of not going back out onto the field of play. The players, forced to play under threat of penalty after the racist insults and the yellow card to Diakhaby, decided to return to the pitch.
“The events of today should not be repeated ever again on a football pitch. Valencia CF strongly opposes racism in all forms and stands with Diakhaby. Today is a sad day for our sport.
“Today was not a loss in a game. It was a loss of respect, a loss of the spirit of football and sport.”
Diakhaby was substituted and did not return to the field, while Cala did return but was eventually substituted at half time.
CNN has reached out to Cala and the player will give a statement to the media on Tuesday, Cadiz said.
Speaking to Spanish outlet Cuatro on his way into the club’s complex on Monday, Cala said: “The presumption of innocence does not appear in this country, apparently. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hide. I will tell [what happened].”
The referee’s match report states that Diakhaby told the referee Cala had called him a “sh*tty black,” but that the alleged incident “was not perceived by any member of the refereeing team.”
However, the report makes no mention of the Valencia players being forced to return.
In a statement after the match, Cádiz said it is “against all forms of racism or xenophobia, regardless of who is responsible, and work hard to help eradicate this.”
“Anyone guilty of such an offense, whether or not they belong to our team, must be punished,” it wrote.
“We have complete confidence in the integrity of our squad members, who are staunch supporters of the fight against racism and have at all times shown an exemplary attitude in every match the team has played.
“The club cannot comment on incidents that arise between players during the course of the play, and always demands respect and responsibility from its players in their attitude towards opponents.”
Speaking to Spanish TV show El Chiringuito, La Liga president Javier Tebas said: “We are analyzing the images to find out what happened. Something happened because the Valencia player felt very angry.”
“La Liga condemns racism in all shapes and forms and has been an active party in persecuting hate crimes in Spain,” La Liga told CNN in a statement.
“We take any allegation of racism seriously and will work with the clubs and refereeing establishment to do whatever is necessary to protect the values of equality and respect that prevail in our Spanish professional football competition.”
The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNN.
Speaking after the game, Valencia captain Gayà said the team was left with “no other option” but to continue playing.
“I was far away from the incident. Diakhaby looked very angry and animated, and he told us that he had received a racist insult,” he said. “That’s why we headed off the pitch. It’s sad that this kind of thing is still happening in football, and a solution has to be put in place.
“We supported him at all times. We did what he told us; he wanted us to go back out. We went back out because he told us, and also because if we didn’t, we would have been deducted points. That is what we were told when inside the dressing room, and we had no other option than to come back out.”
The match was tied at 1-1 at the time of the incident, after Kevin Gameiro had equalized for Valencia following Cala’s opening goal.
Cádiz eventually won the match 2-1 thanks to Marcos Mauro’s 87th-minute goal.