Kick Racism out of Football
Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
It was February 2006 and the stage was set. Estadio de la Romareda, Zaragoza, Spain was the place, and there promised to be a very interesting football match in a clash between Barcelona FC and Real Zaragoza. What began as a typical football match took a grim turn when the crowd greeted one of the most decorated black players, Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o, with ape-like sounds. They overlooked all his worth, chanted ‘monkey’, and tossed banana peels. In response, Eto’o began the first open protest against racism, when he attempted to leave the pitch. Although he was restrained by his teammates, I asked myself, who in their right mind would sensibly discriminate between Eto’o and Beckham, Ronaldo, Shevchenko, Rooney and Drogba, Figo and Henry, Radebe and Maradona, Beckenbauer and Pele?
In an interview with CNN, Eto’o said “I was leaving the field and if it wasn’t for Rijkard, my teammates and the referee, I would have done it. In that moment, you start to think whether there is something wrong with being black, you know?” The saddest thing about racism in football is that many who participate in it would probably never think of perpetrating it on the streets or at work. Samuel Eto’o, an Olympic Gold medallist and 3-time winner of the African best player award, also said that “football stadia is a reflection of what goes on in the society, many times in stadia people just feel more relaxed and say what they think when they are somewhere else”.
Samuel Eto’o is not the first and will certainly not be the last to have racist slurs directed at him, but he is the only player who has attempted to leave the pitch by way of protest and who has come out openly to campaign against racism, especially in Europe. Black players in Bundesliga stadia have been greeted with bananas and shouts of “Negro in the Bush”. Patrice Evra was racially abused by Luis Suarez in 2011. Anton Ferdinand was racially abused by John Terry in 2012, and repulsive displays of racism continue to be reported on football fields across the U.K. and other parts of Europe. This is absurd because Liverpool Football club supported Suarez in blaming the victim. Meanwhile, John Terry tried to dismiss his abuse of Anton Ferdinand as simply “banter”.
This situation is ironic because the beautiful game of football is aimed at uniting players from various football clubs and national teams, through the spirit of sportsmanship. Notwithstanding the fact that there must be a winner and a loser, both sides leave with a spirit of oneness. Football is an avenue where national rivals can compete and shake hands at the end of the game. An example of this kind of camaraderie can be seen in the ‘handling’ of the historical rivalry between England and Scotland, with both teams playing 110 matches; England won 45, Scotla nd 41, and 24 were drawn. The famous words of football legend, Beckenbauer, come to mind; he said “We’re only at the beginning of the evolution. In a few hundred thousand years, man may have become how our dear Lord wanted him to be.” Until then, the world would have to rely on football to make it a better place. “Only football can do that on this scale,” This brings to mind a situation that happened with Di Canio on 16 December, 2000, that I consider to be the highest form of sportsmanship. The former Westham player had the chance to score but chose to stop because his opponent had a broken leg, disregarding the fact that he could have broken the tie between the teams by scoring that crucial goal. Such events restore the hope of man’s potential to peacefully coexist. The use of charity football matches like Football for Hope which was held on the 15th of February 2005, organised to raise about 7million GBP for victims of the tsunami in Japan and the annual Match Against Poverty organised by the UNDP, the proceeds of which are used to alleviate poverty in crisis areas.
There have been attempts by the football world governing body, FIFA, to fight racism in the game. It brought about the Kick It Out campaign, which started in 1993. After almost 20 years, this campaign is, in my opinion, a flop, as incidents of despicable racist behaviour have continued to occur. It is appalling that FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, is so out-of-touch with the issue as he completely denies that racism is a significant problem on the pitch. Even more laughable is Kick It Out’s 2010-11 Annual budget review. I was surprised to learn that Kick It Out operates on a mere £453,913 annual budget, which covers wages and office overhead, in addition to promoting an expanding range of discrimination issues. Lord Herman Ouseley, Chair of Kick It Out said in a 2012 interview that “In particular, during the last year, attention has been focused around concerns with homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, sexism and abuse of disabled people.” In order to understand how minute this allocation is to enhance the fight against racism, a brief look at allocations to other projects in the United Kingdom should be considered.
£7.41m on promoting how to avoid catching the flu
£9.2m on the Change4Life healthy eating program
£7.67m on sexual health/teenage pregnancy campaigning
£3.73m on PV cervical cancer vaccination awareness
The consequence of the low budget of the Kick It Out campaign and all other mediocre attempts by FIFA to stop racism is akin to using a wind pipe to extinguish the raging firestorm that is Racism. Hence, more cases of racism keep springing up all over Europe. However, there is hope, as Ghanaian-born AC Milan midfielder, Kevin Prince Boateng, on 3rd January, 2013, seven years after Samuel Eto’o took the first stand, was forced to complete Eto’s brave protest by kicking the ball into the crowd and walking out of the field in utter disgust as a response to the racists chants made by the opposition supporters towards him and his teammate, Ghanaian Sulley Muntari. This singular act has being praised by the football world and there have been various commendations from both players and coaches on the bravery behind such an act in the fight against racism.
This incident should serve as a wakeup call to all footballers, Negro or Caucasian, that the issue of racism would not just roll over, especially with the frail efforts of the current football governing body, but players must play their part in the war against racism and follow the footsteps of Samuel Eto’o and Kevin Prince Boateng to stand up and “kick” racism out of football. I also believe that more drastic steps must be taken by the football governing body; campaign and re-orientation of players is much needed to combat this problem. Graver sanctions should be imposed on those who shame the name and very foundations of this game. For now, all they do is chant ‘monkey’ and toss bananas; who knows what would come next.
Tags: Africa, Africans, Discrimination, Emmanuel Ohiri, Eto'o, Ferdinand, FIFA, Football, football stadia, Negro, olympic gold medallist, Olympics, patrice evra, Players, Racism, racism in football, REspect, samuel eto o, Sepp Blatter, Soccer, sports, Terry#, UEFA
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