Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A solution to racism in football -- inspired by Selma

Black football (soccer) players around the world are routinely subjected to racist abuse during football matches from Europe to South America and other parts of the world, and football authorities are either unwilling or unable to stop the prevalence of racism in football. History shows that the greatest victories against racism and discrimination were registered when affected groups, mostly black people, organized themselves and demanded change. From Soweto to Selma, for example, people of African descent rose up en masse against racial discrimination and disenfranchisement. Perhaps it's time for black players and others affected by racism in football to step up to the plate - together - and say "no mas."

A football player in Peru walked off the pitch in protest over racist abuse on March 1,2015. The Panamanian player, Luis Tejada, left the field after 70 minutes of play. According to him, racial abuse was going unpunished by football authorities in Peru. He walked off the field because he couldn't take it anymore. (The question I'm asking myself here is, was he the only black player on the pitch that day? If not, why didn't the others walk off with him?) The incident was reportedly the second involving the same player in five months.

A few days before the abuse in Peru, Feyenoord fans threw a giant inflatable banana at an Ivorian player in a Europa League match in Rotterdam. Although UEFA charged Feyenoord for fan racism, the club's General Manager Eric Gudde claimed the incident was "pure coincidence." Feyenoord coach Fred Rutten also downplayed the incident claiming the club has "various nationalities" so there can be no racisim. (How naive!) In a tweet the following day, FIFA president Sepp Blatter condemned the incident and urged all football bodies to implement the 2013 FIFA Congress Resolution to fight discrimination.

In my view, football authorities and governing bodies, including FIFA and UEFA haven't done enough to combat racism and discrimination in football. They have to do more than passing resolutions and releasing statements condemning racist incidents. The 2013 FIFA Resolution on the Fight against Racism and Discrimination mentioned by Blatter in his tweet is, for instance, a beautifully written 6-paged document stipulating anti-racism measures to be implemented on a global level in football, but such a document is worthless if clubs and football associations don't agree in the first place on what constitutes racist behavior. Take General Manager of Feyenoord Eic Gudde, and the club's coach Fred Rutten for example. They claimed that throwing a banana at a black football player isn't a racist act. Such people shouldn't be entrusted with the task of combating racism and discrimination.

Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter - who now passively condemns racism via social media - said in 2011 that there's no racism in football. It is unclear whether or not he has changed his mind. Michel Platini, another top football official, warned Mario Balotelli in 2012 and suggested that a player who walks off the pitch in protest over racist abuse should be booked. This tells me that rather than genuinely combat racism by taking a zero-tolerance approach, football authorities are more interested in protecting the game and in keeping the money flowing.

In my opinion, it's up to black players affected by racism to force real change and ensure maximum implementation of anti-racism and non-discrimination measures in football.

In Selma, a film which centers around the voting rights movement in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. (portrayed by actor David Oyelowo) repeatedly stated in one scene: "We negotiate. We demonstrate. We resist." 

To combat racism in football, affected players should, I believe, negotiate, demonstrate and resist. Black players should, together, negotiate with their clubs and football associations on how to respond to racism; they should demonstrate - together - against any manifestation of racism, even if it means walking off the pitch together when one of them is abused and nothing concrete is done about it; above all, they should resist - again, together - any pressure from the authorities to silence them through bookings or banning. If need be they should be ready collectively to accept banning. Like every major struggle related to racism and discrimination, the price for stopping racism in football will have to be paid by victims of the social ill. The price will be high but it'll also be worth it.

Unfortunately, there's little or no chance of black players collectively taking a zero-tolerance stance against racism by demanding more from the authorities. Many, if not all players, are hooked by lucrative contracts, sponsorship deals and the quest for glory on the big stage of world football. It seems to me that for many, if not all of them, the indignity of racial abuse on the job is a small price to pay -- that's why they put up with racial abuse.

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