Saturday, January 5, 2013

Kevin-Prince Boateng: Walk-off does not empower racist fans

When Mario Balotelli threatened to walk off the pitch ahead of Euro 2012, I told a few friends of mine that I would unconditionally support a walk-off by Balotelli in protest against racism in football. I said the first player to walk off the field in protest against racism will earn my respect and a place on my list of highly regarded anti-racism advocates and freedom fighters. I said should Balotelli walk off, I would buy a Manchester City F.C. shirt with his name and number inscribed on it as a sign of my respect and admiration. Shortly after Balotelli's declaration, UEFA president Michel Platini threatened players with sanctions - if they walk off the pitch in protest against racism. Of course racist incidents were recorded during Euro 2012. Mario Balotelli did not walk off, neither did any other player. I was disappointed, but I knew someday someone would walk off the pitch in protest.

On 3 January 2013, Kevin-Prince Boateng took a personal stand against racism; a stand that would hopefully inspire other players to do the same. He walked out of a friendly match after he was racially abused by fans of Italian club Pro Patria.

Keeping a promise

I am officially a Kevin-Prince Boateng supporter, not because he plays good football. I am a supporter because he has the courage to take action against a social ill that many people lack the courage to stand up against.

At the moment, I do not own a football shirt. I have been thinking about buying one, but although I enjoy football - no player has ever inspired me to carry his name behind my back. However, events of 3 January helped me make up my mind.

In keeping my promise made before Euro 2012, I will order A.C. Milan's number 10 shirt inscribed with the name PRINCE - as a sign of solidarity with Boateng in the fight against racism in football. I admire his courage and he did exactly what I would do under the same circumstance.

In an interview with CNN, Kevin-Prince Boateng promised to carry on with the fight. He said, "I'd walk off again" in protest whenever racism shows its ugly face in a match - be it a friendly, Italian League or Champions League match. In the interview, the 25-year-old footballer of German and Ghanaian origin encouraged other black players to do the same.

It is worth mentioning that Boateng did not walk off alone. His team mates rightly decided to walk off with him. Although he would have done it without them, I applaud the whole A.C. Milan team for supporting their mate and taking a stand against racism. Their collective action adds weight to my jersey choice.

Some people have argued that Boateng was wrong to walk off. Clarence Seedorf said he does not see the walk off as a positive thing because it empowers the racists.

If you ask me, Seedorf is wrong.

Walk off in protest doesn't empower racists

I have no illusion that this gesture will put an end to racism. Perpetrators of racial abuse are mindless and defiant. However, I look forward to more protests. If enough players and teams abandon a good number of games, football authorities will take a serious look at racism in football and do what is expected to abort the problem - especially when football bodies and federations start loosing money because of abandoned matches.

Besides, civil disobedience and protests in the interest of human rights never empower the oppressor. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a bus the oppressor was not empowered; when Nelson Mandela took a stand against a racist regime the oppressor was not empowered; when Dr. King led the match against civil rights violations in the U.S. the oppressor was weakened. In the same vein, racist fans will not be empowered by protests against racism. On the contrary, walking off the pitch gives players the power to end abuse - especially when their team mates walk with them.

Way forward

All across Europe, "the beautiful game" is marred by racism and racial abuse. Black players are taunted with monkey chants and bananas by fans. A lot has been written and said about racism in European football: from stadiums of hate in Poland and Ukraine to Russia - where racist Zenit St. Petersburg fans and others make no secret of their racism and narrow-mindedness. Racism is clearly alive and well in Europe. Like lawmakers and politicians in parliaments and presidential palaces around Europe, football authorities lack the will to take a serious stand against racism. Consequently, so-called non-white players continue to play under very hostile conditions in many stadiums.

The good news is that there is something players can do to counter blatant racism in football or force football authorities to take concrete steps to ensure that stadiums are void of racism. The action players and teams can take is encapsulation in four words: walk off in protest.

I might as well buy more football shirts in solidarity.

*Photo: SkySports.

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