Racism shows its ugly face in many areas of life, including sports. The "beautiful game" of football is plagued by racism perpetrated either by players against players or supporters against players. Victims include some of the most celebrated and successful players like Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry, Roberto Carlos, Patrice Evra, just to name a few. These men have faced racial abuse either by way of monkey chants, spitting, bananas thrown at them from the stands or racist slurs by a fellow player or coach. In 2004, Luis Aragones, former Spanish footballer and national coach, used racially offensive language against a player (Thierry Henry). Racial abuse is more commonly perpetrated by supporters on the stands; rarely does it happen on the pitch. But recently, there have been reports of "player-on-player" racial abuse. One of the perpetrators of racism on the pitch is Luis Suarez, a national of Uruguay who plays for Liverpool. He was recently sanctioned for racism by the Football Federation (FA).
Suarez has been on the headlines for the wrong reasons.
During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the striker demonstrated gross indiscipline in Football when he deliberately robbed Ghana, and Africa as a whole, of a deserved victory. He was hailed as a "national hero" at the time. His teammates carried him shoulder-high as they celebrated a stolen victory.
At the end of 2011, Luis Suarez was involved in a more sinister controversy.
It was alleged that he racially abused a fellow footballer, Patrice Evra, defender for Manchester United, during a game between Liverpool FC and Manchester United in October.
Suarez was found guilty by an independent commission of racially abusing Patrice. Consequently the FA slapped him with an eight-game ban.
24-year-old Suarez tried without success to defend himself when he said:
"In my country, 'negro' is a word we use commonly, a word which doesn't show lack of respect and is even less so a form of racist abuse. Based on this, everything which has been said so far is totally false." [Source].
The striker and those who use this argument to defend him seem to be unaware that whether or not the word "negro" is commonly used in Uruguay is irrelevant in this case. What matters is "intent" and the circumstances under which the word was used (note that Suarez reportedly directed the word at Evra seven times in two minutes).
The consequences of racial abuse and racism on players and other victims are far-reaching and there is a need to protect victims.
I advocate a policy of "zero tolerance" for racism and strongly believe that persons who utter racist and offensive slurs, in a bid to offend or dehumanize, should be punished to the full extent. I therefore condemn in the strongest terms Suarez's offensive rant and welcome the decision of the FA to sanction him. Tougher sanctions for racial abuse and racism in football should be considered.
Racial abuse between players on the pitch cannot be solved by a handshake - as misguidedly suggested by Football boss, Sepp Blatter, in an interview with CNN World Sport.
It is worth mentioning that another player, Chelsea's John Terry, is under investigation for making racist comments on the pitch.
*Photo of Suarez and Evra: Mail Online.