Black footballers alone in fighting against racism

The authorities have failed black footballers, who are racially abused in numerous stadiums across Europe. This is why they will have to take matters into their own hands.

“Black man, you are on your own.” This slogan, first coined by Barney Pityana and made famous by the Black Consciousness Movement, might as well be written on every football stadium in Europe as a reminder to black players that they are on their own in the fight against racism. 

Juventus forward, 19-year-old Moise Kean, learned this the hard way when teammate and Juve co-captain Leonardo Bonucci and coach Massimiliano Allegri inferred that he is also to blame for the racist taunts he suffered at the hands of Cagliari fans on 2 April. Kean and his black teammates, Blaise Matuidi and Alex Sandro, had to endure monkey chants directed at them during Juventus’ 2-0 win over Cagliari.

Those chants intensified after Kean scored the second goal. He celebrated the goal by standing in front of Cagliari fans with his hands outstretched. His celebration was quite symbolic, he didn’t say or do anything, he just stood there as the hate intensified. Bonucci then made it worse by telling television channel Sky Sport Italia after the match that Kean was partly to blame for the abuse he suffered.

“There were racist jeers after the goal, Blaise heard it and was angered. I think the blame is 50-50 because Moise shouldn’t have done that and the Curva should not have reacted that way,” Bonucci said.

Allegri and Cagliari president Tommaso Giulini were also critical of Kean’s goal celebration. Guilini went as far as to say, “We cannot go around calling the entire Cagliari crowd offensive things. If there were racist jeers, then our fans got it wrong. But it happened because of the celebration and would’ve happened even if the goalscorer had a different colour of skin.” 

What should Kean have done?

If Kean’s celebration is as offensive as these three white gentlemen would have us believe, then what about the abuse he suffered before the goal and what should the teenager have done? 

If he had made a gesture to the fans, he would probably have been suspended like France-born Congolese defender Christopher Samba, who was banned for two matches by the Russian Football Union for the way he reacted to racist abuse from Torpedo Moscow supporters while playing for Dynamo Moscow. The only punishment the club suffered was to have a section of their stand closed.   

If Kean had told the referee, he probably would have been booked like Ghanaian Sulley Muntari was in the colours of Pescara in 2017 after complaining to referee Daniele Minelli about the abuse he suffered from Cagliari fans. Muntari walked off the pitch and was given another yellow card, which resulted in a one-match ban. His coach took offence. 

“Muntari has abandoned the pitch because of racist chants, but we should not take justice into our own hands,” Zdeněk Zeman, then coach of Pescara, was quoted as saying. 

What happened to the fans who abused Muntari? Nothing. The Serie A disciplinary committee didn’t take any action because it was “approximately 10” supporters who were involved in the incident.

If he had gone to the authorities and been lucky enough to have the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) investigate the matter – as they did in the case of Michy Batshuayi, who endured monkey chants in Borussia Dortmund’s Europa League tie with Atalanta – he would likely have been disappointed by the organisation dropping the investigation without explanation. 

But Uefa did fine Atalanta fans $42 000 (about R600 000) for setting off fireworks and throwing objects during that match. You can abuse a black player, but don’t go around setting off fireworks or throwing things.

Uefa and Fifa have failed black players 

Standing in front of Cagliari fans with his hands outstretched is the most Keane could do, because Uefa and the International Federation of Association Football (Fifa) have failed him and many other black players. The two football governing bodies talk a good game when it comes to fighting racism but their actions indicate the opposite. 

Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter once said that racism could be solved by a shake of hands between the racist and the victim. When he was called out for his ridiculous statement, he said something progressive when he told Fifa’s website that: “It is not enough to give a fine. Playing a game without spectators is one of the possible sanctions, but the best [action] would be the deduction of points and the relegation of a team, because finally the club is responsible for their spectators.”

This was never implemented. Three years after that statement, Fifa disbanded its anti-racism task force because it had “completely fulfilled its temporary mission”. This was another reminder to black athletes that they are on their own, which is why they must come together not only in words but in action. 

Who has their backs when the authorities have failed them? Who will protect black footballers when a white teammate, coaches and a club president say a black player is partly to blame for being racially abused? When a club such as Liverpool sees nothing wrong with making their players wear t-shirts in support of Luis Suárez, who was slapped with an eight-match ban for using a derogatory and racist term towards Patrice Evra?

Kean received an outpouring of support from players past and present, black and white. But it’s about time black players did more than just support each other after being racially abused. They must take matters into their own hands and act instead of waiting for the authorities, who have failed them countless times. 

Uefa and Fifa will not solve this problem. They have shown that they are incapable at best and don’t care at worst. If players walked off the field, the precious game that makes Fifa and Uefa billions will suffer. Sadly, organisations like these will only act when their pockets are affected. 

World Cup in Russia an insult to black players 

If Fifa was serious about fighting racism, the World Cup would have never gone to Russia – a country in which black players have suffered racial abuse a number of times. Awarding Russia the right to host the global showpiece was an insult to black players. English defender Danny Rose told his family not to come to Russia.

“I don’t want them going out there because of racism and everything else that may happen,” Rose told the Evening Standard newspaper. “I don’t want to be worrying when I am trying to prepare for games for my family’s safety. If anything happens to me, it wouldn’t affect me like it would if my family had been abused.”

It’s outrageous that black players across various leagues in Europe know that there are certain places where they will be racially abused and that it’s part of their preparations.

Raheem Sterling has faced abuse from fans in his own country and abroad, as well as from English tabloids, which seem to stalk his every action and then paint it in the worst possible way. What’s worse is that the authorities don’t do anything about it, even for serial offenders, because they know they will receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

The day matches are abandoned because of racism will be the day Fifa and Uefa act, because the fans and advertisers will force them to do something. Money, not black lives, is the currency they understand. If you hit them in their pockets, you bring them to their knees.

Uefa and Fifa’s apathy in the fight against racism in football is dangerous because it will discourage many young footballers who want to turn professional. Why play a sport where you will be racially abused with no punishment for the perpetrators? 

Rose told The Guardian that he cannot wait to leave football because he is disgusted by the racism and by the apathy those in power show towards acting on the matter. 

“It is a bit sad [to feel like this], but when countries only get fined what I’d probably spend on a night out in London, what do you expect? You see my [Tottenham Hotspur] manager [Mauricio Pochettino] get banned for two games for just being confrontational against [referee] Mike Dean. But yet a country can only get fined a little bit of money for being racist. It’s just a bit of a farce at the minute. So that’s where we are at in football and until there’s a harsh punishment, there’s not much else we can expect.”

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