Liverpool last night indicated that they feel Pepe Reina's appearance in a Spanish television advertisement which has been pulled because it is racially offensive is a matter for him to deal with – a stance they hope will prevent the club from becoming embroiled in another race row.
The timing of the advert's removal is unfortunate for the club, which has been working hard to repair the damage done by Luis Suarez's unwillingness to show contrition for the offence he cased by calling Manchester United's Patrice Evra "negro" at Anfield in October. The club was criticised for their conduct on that issue by a group of anti-racism campaigners. But Liverpool feel the advert has nothing to do with them.
The club was aware of the Reina advertisement last night; it is possible that the Spaniard will be encouraged to apologise for any offence caused, allowing Anfield to put in the past an episode which seems to have caused more offence to an English audience than to any in Spain. Reina is believed to have signed for Groupama, a multi-national insurance firm, in November – and so the advert must have been filmed after Suarez was charged – a piece of timing that will not impress Liverpool. The advert was taken off Spanish television after a complaint from Operation Black Vote, a British-based campaign group, about its portrayal of racial and sexual stereotypes. In the advert Reina, whose name means "Queen" in Spanish, is shown in a jungle scene coming face to face with a group of black men wearing tribal costume. The "chief" then appears to be attracted to Reina.
Simon Woolley, director of OBV, said: "I'm shocked on so many levels. Firstly, how would the Spanish feel if the English stereotyped Spanish people as backward, stupid, and animalistic homosexuals? Secondly, what does this say about Pepe Reina? The Liverpool goalkeeper has lived and worked in the UK for nearly a decade – does he think it is OK to characterise black people this way? Does he think his black team-mates will laugh at his joke? One can only be surprised at Reina, who is acutely aware of how his football club has been embroiled in an unnecessary and protracted race row."
Groupama agreed to withdraw the advert from Spanish TV, but in a statement denied it was offensive. The statement said: "Groupama Seguros does not consider that this advert contains either offensive nor any discriminatory content."
In Britain racism has returned to the top of the agenda in football this season for the first time in several years. This latest episode is an embarrassment to Liverpool, coming so soon after Suarez's ban and his controversial return at Old Trafford, where he refused to shake Evra's hand, an action which ended in Suarez and manager Kenny Dalglish issuing public apologies.
Reina, who joined Liverpool in 2005 from Villarreal, played in Liverpool's Carling Cup win on Sunday before travelling to Malaga for Spain's friendly with Venezuela last night. He is due back in Liverpool today to prepare for Saturday's game against Arsenal at Anfield.
In 2007 a law was introduced in Spain designed to target racism in sport. A number of clubs have since been fined for racist chanting among their supporters. In 2004 the then Spain manager, Luis Aragones, was caught on film referring to Thierry Henry as a "black shit". The following year he was fined £2,000, around a day's wages. The Spanish FA only took action after pressure from government. In 2008 Lewis Hamilton was racially abused by spectators during a testing weekend in Barcelona.