The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Villarreal bans fan for banana taunt as Alves gets outpouring of support on social media

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MADRID - Barcelona defender Dani Alves has received an outpouring of support for his response to a racist taunt during a game, while Villarreal issued a lifetime ban to the season-ticket holder who threw a banana at him.

Alves, who is black, was about to take a corner in Sunday's 3-2 win at Villarreal's El Madrigal Stadium when a banana landed on the pitch in front of him. The Brazil international picked it up, peeled it and ate some of it before throwing the rest aside.

"Villarreal deeply regrets and condemns the incident that happened," Villarreal said in a statement on Monday. "The club has already identified the (culprit) and has decided to withdraw his season tickets, permanently."

After the match, Alves said humour was the best way to combat racism in sport. That sentiment has led fellow football players, officials and even political figures from around the globe to respond with solidarity by picturing themselves eating a banana.

Barcelona teammate Neymar posted a photo of himself on Instagram holding a peeled banana alongside his son, who was holding a doll that resembled a banana.

Fellow Brazil teammates Hulk and Fred also lent support via their social media accounts.

Argentina striker Sergio Aguero and Brazil women's striker Marta both posed for photos while biting into bananas, while former Brazil international Roberto Carlos also posted an internet photo of himself with the fruit.

"We have suffered this in Spain for some time," Alves said Sunday. "You have to take it with a dose of humour. We aren't going to change things easily. If you don't give it importance, they don't achieve their objective."

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who has been actively condemning racist acts in Brazilian football, also expressed her support to Alves, while Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Italy national team coach Cesare Prandelli also shared a banana in a photograph.

"The player had a daring and strong response to racism in sport," Rousseff wrote on her official Twitter account. "Confronted by something that unfortunately has become too common in stadiums, Alves had attitude."

Rousseff praised Neymar for getting behind his teammate and reiterated that Brazil will "raise the flag against racial discrimination" during the World Cup.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter also commented on Twitter, saying that "what (Alves) tolerated last night is an outrage." He added that there "will be zero tolerance" at the World Cup.

The match referee on Sunday included the 75th-minute incident in his match report, so Villarreal could face a fine.

"Our club would like to express its firm commitment to promoting respect, equality, sportsmanship and fair play both on and off the field and our absolute rejection of any act that is contrary to these principles, such as violence, discrimination, racism and xenophobia," Villarreal added in its statement.

Alves has often been subjected to racist taunts and called fighting racism "a lost war" in January 2013 after segments of Real Madrid's fans abused him with monkey chants during a match. Madrid defender Marcelo, who is also Brazilian, was also recently greeted with monkey chants by a section of Atletico Madrid fans this season.

Former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o was convinced not to walk off at Zaragoza in 2006 after fans berated the Cameroon striker with racist chants. Two years earlier, Spain fans at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium infamously greeted England's black players with monkey chants during an international friendly match.

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AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.

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Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

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