Madrid (AFP) – Valencia’s players walked off during their La Liga game with Cadiz on Sunday in protest against racist abuse, with coach Javi Gracia later claiming they were told they would be punished if they refused to resume the match.

The fixture was stopped in the 37th minute after Valencia said their player Mouctar Diakhaby was the victim of a racial insult. 

Diakhaby had shared a heated exchange with Cadiz’s Juan Cala at the Ramon de Carranza stadium before indicating to the referee David Medie Jimenez he was leaving the field, with the Frenchman’s team-mates then following him off.

Around 15 minutes later, the Valencia team returned and a further five minutes afterwards, the game restarted, this time without Diakhaby.

“In the changing rooms we were told if we didn’t return, we would be sanctioned,” said Gracia. 

“In that moment, we spoke with Diakha, about how he was, and he told us that he wouldn’t play but he understood perfectly we had to continue playing to avoid a possible sanction, so we returned.”

Valencia defender Jose Gaya had also told Spanish television after the game: “He (Diakhaby) told us he was insulted in a racist way. We went back out to play because they told us they could penalise us with three points and something more. He asked us to go back, he’s gutted, it was a very ugly insult.”

Valencia posted messages on social media shortly after the game resumed, which read: “The team have held a meeting and decided to continue the game, in order to fight for the honour of the club, but denounce racism of any kind. 

“We offer our complete backing to @Diakhaby_5. The player, who had received a racial insult, requested that his teammates return to the pitch. We support you Mouctar.” 

Cala was then also substituted at half-time, having earlier scored the opening goal for Cadiz, with Kevin Gameiro equalising for Valencia. 

Cala’s replacement Marcos Lopez scored a late winner for Cadiz.

Diakhaby was replaced by Hugo Guillamon and watched the second half sitting in the stands.

La Liga would not comment on the incident after the match.

An official complaint from Valencia or mention of the incident in the referee’s report could lead to further investigation and sanctions against Cadiz.