BANANAS flying out of the stands, monkey chants being heard all over the place, unbelievable racial slurs being called out; it’s sad to tell you that these are what our African football brothers are experiencing in the European fields when playing for their professional teams. With blacks making up as much as 15 percent of the players in the top leagues, England has become the leader in the fight against racism in the football arena. Almost every country in Europe is guily of this sin, with racial signs and chants - even violence - that target blacks, Jews, and Muslims. It’s understandable to support one’s team against your opponent, but there ought to be limits on the actions taken against each other. Some demonstrators guilty of these stupidities confirm that they only do it to unsettle the opposing team, but there are evidence that this is not just team feud; this is full blown hate and racism. How else can you explain the fact that some of these racism acts have been even conducted by supporters against their own players? Italians fans have been racially taunting their own team’s players. When the French team on the World Cup, a politician openly branded the team “unworthy” due to the facts that they had more black payers than whites in the team.Racism and violence in the football stadiums are still rising, and it’s sad to know that the majority of these acts are being conducted against African players. Here are some incidents that have been documented and talked about. As you will noticed, as much as European federations and teams are proclaiming about trying their best on working out this issue, every year - if not every game - there are incidents still being reported, and FIFA ought to start taking stronger measure against anyone found guilty of racism in the football field.
On 18 April 2007, Lyon player Milan Baroš was accused of racially abusing Rennes’ Stéphane M’Bia by implying that M’Bia smelled. On 4 May 2007 Baros was found guilty of the gesture, but found not guilty of racism, and was banned for three league matches.
On 17 September 2007, Libourne’s Burkinabe player Boubacar Kébé was abused by fans of Bastia; he was red-carded for retaliating. In February 2008, Bastia was again at the center of controversy when their fans unfurled a racist banner, again aimed at Kébé, which delayed the kick-off of the match by three minutes.
On 17 February 2008, Abdeslam Ouaddou of Valenciennes was racially abused by a fan from opponents Metz; Metz and the French league announced that they would be suing
the fan in question. The match referee did not see the incident, and so booked Ouaddou for challenging the fan.Valenciennes chairman Francis Decourriere later demanded that the match be replayed, “in front of children from Valenciennes and Metz.
In March 2008, Bastia’s Frédéric Mendy claimed he had been racially abused by Grenoble’s fans.
Oguchi Onyewu, an American of Nigerian descent, has been punched and shouted at by racist fans while playing for Standard Liège. He’s also had incidents with other players, such as Jelle Van Damme, who, according to Onyewu, repeatedly called him a “dirty ape” during the 2008–09 Championship playoff, even after Onyewu relayed the information to the referees. Van Damme denied the accusations following the match, and claimed that Onyewu had called him a “dirty Flemish”. Approximately two weeks later, on June 2, 2009, it was announced by Onyewu’s lawyer that he was suing Van Damme in an effort to end on-field racism in European football.
Zola Matumona left FC Brussels after he accused club chairman Johan Vermeersch of making racist remarks towards him during a crisis meeting at the struggling club. He is reported to have told Matumona to “think about other things than trees and bananas.”
Racism in German football is much more subtle than in other parts of Europe; monkey chants have been replaced with codes, such as the number 88, which stands for ‘HH’ or ‘Heil Hitler’ (‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet in German and English). Some teams, for example Hannover 96, have banned such symbols from their stadiums.
On 25 March 2006, in a match between FC Sachsen Leipzig and Hallescher FC, Leipzig’s Nigerian midfielder Adebowale Ogungbure was spat at and called ‘Nigger’ and ‘ape’ by opposition fans, who later aimed monkey noises at him. In retaliation he placed two fingers above his mouth and saluted at the crowd - a reference to Adolf
Hitler.Ogungbure was arrested by German police, as it is illegal to make Nazi gestures for political or abusive purposes, but criminal proceedings were dropped 24 hours later.
Ghana-born German international striker Gerald Asamoah has frequently been the target of racist abuse. On 10 September 2006 Hansa Rostock were investigated for racist abuse in a friendly game and were subsequently found guilty; the team was fined $25,000.
On 19 August 2007 it was announced that Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller would be investigated by the German Football Association (DFB) after apparently calling Asamoah a ‘black pig’.
Torsten Ziegner was given a five-match ban in October 2008 for racially abusing Nigerian player Kingsley Onuegbu during a match against Eintracht Braunschweig.
On 27 November 2005, Marco Zoro attempted to stop the Messina-Inter Milan match by leaving the field with the ball, after being tormented by racist taunts from some Inter supporters. He was eventually convinced to keep playing by other players, notably by Inter’s Adriano.
On April 2009 Internazionale’s Mario Balotelli, an Italian footballer of Ghanaian descent, was subjected to racial abuse from Juventus fans. They were handed a one game home fan ban as a result.
On 24 March 2007, in a match between France and Lithuania, a racist banner was unfurled by Lithuanian supporters. Directed against France’s black players, it
represented a map of Africa, painted with the French flag colors (blue, white and red), with a slogan of “Welcome to Europe”.
In a match between Rangers and FK Zeta, Rangers players DaMarcus Beasley (an African American) and Jean-Claude Darcheville (a black Frenchman) were subjected to racist abuse by FK Zeta players and Zeta were later fined £9,000.
Cameroonian player André Bikey suffered racism while playing for Lokomotiv in Moscow.
As Zenit kicked off their 2006/07 Russian Premier League campaign against visitors Saturn, Brazilian footballer Antonio Geder was received with a chorus of monkey chants at Petrovsky Stadium.
In March 2008, black players of French side Marseille - including André Ayew, Ronald Zubar and Charles Kaboré - were targeted by fans of Zenit Saint Petersburg. Later Zenit’s coach Dick Advocaat revealed the club’s supporters were racist. When they attempted to sign Mathieu Valbuena, a Frenchman, many fans asked “Is he a negro?” Also Serge Branco, who played for Krylya Sovetov, accused Zenit’s staff of racism. “Each time I play in St Petersburg I have to listen to racist insults from the stands. Zenit bosses do not do anything about it which makes me think they are racists too.”
On 20 August 2010, Odemwingie joined Premier League team West Bromwich Albion for an undisclosed fee. He signed a 3 year contract and was granted the number 24 shirt. Shortly after signing for West Brom, photographs showed Lokomotiv Moscow fans celebrating the sale of Odemwingie through the use of racist banners targeted at the player. One banner included the image of a banana and read “Thanks West Brom.”
Aston Villa’s Dalian Atkinson returned from Spain after one season with Real Sociedad, unhappy with the reception he received, and identifying racial abuse as a major factor in his rapid departure from the Spanish club.
Felix Dja Ettien suffered racial abuse when he first signed for Levante; he was ignored by the coach due to his inability to speak Spanish, and whenever he fell ill he was accused of having malaria or AIDS.
During a training session in 2004, a Spanish TV crew filmed Spanish national team head coach Luis Aragonés trying to motivate José Antonio Reyes by making offensive and racist references to Reyes’ then teammate at Arsenal, Thierry Henry. The phrase used was “Demuestra que eres mejor que ese negro de mierda”, translated as “Show that you’re better than that black shit”. The incident caused uproar in the British media with calls for Aragonés to be sacked. However these opinions were not widely supported in Spain, with the national football federation declining to take any action, and politicians being slow to denounce the remarks.
In February 2005, Samuel Eto’o suffered from racially-driven verbal abuse by some Real Zaragoza spectators during a match for FC Barcelona. The fans began making monkey-like chants whenever Eto’o had possession of the ball and peanuts were hurled onto the pitch. Eto’o threatened to leave the pitch in the middle of the game, but was prevented by the intervention of his team-mates and the referee, who rushed to the pitch to calm him down. His teammate Ronaldinho, who has suffered similar abuses but less intensely, said he was fed up with the sounds and that if Eto’o had left the pitch, he would have done the same. As Barcelona won 4-1, Eto’o danced like a
monkey, saying rival fans were treating him as a monkey. Referee Fernando Carmona Mendez did not mention the incidents in his match report, commenting only that the behaviour of the crowd was “normal”. The fans were identified to police by fellow spectators and they were fined and banned from attending sporting events for five months. Eto’o declared in the aftermath that the punishment was insufficient and that La Romareda, Real Zaragoza’s stadium, should have been closed for at least one year. However, Eto’o’s coach, Frank Rijkaard, told him to concentrate on football and to stop talking about the incident. Eto’o has stated that he does not take his children to football matches, due the prevalent racism and has also suggested that players walk off if they become victims of racism.
Many other African footballers have also been victims of racial abuse, such as Cameroon’s Idriss Carlos Kameni, who was abused while playing for Espanyol against
Atlético Madrid, who were fined €6000.
The player Roger Verdi, who is of Indian origin, changed his name from Rajinder Singh Birdi due to racism.
In the 1980s, racism in football in England was rampant. Paul Canoville was abused by his own fans when he warmed up for Chelsea before making his début. Garth Crooks was regularly subject to racist chants and banners from opposing fans during his time at Spurs. Cyrille Regis endured monkey chants from Newcastle fans on his away début for West Bromwich Albion and was later sent a bullet in the post following his call up to the England squad. In 1987 John Barnes was pictured back-heeling a banana off the pitch during a match for Liverpool against Everton, whose fans chanted ‘Everton are white’.
On 21 April 2004, Ron Atkinson resigned from ITV after he was caught making a racist remark live on air about the black Chelsea F.C. player Marcel Desailly: believing the microphone to be switched off, he said, “...he [Desailly] is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy thick nigger”. Although transmission in the UK had finished, the microphone gaffe meant that his comment was broadcast to various countries in the Middle East. He also left his job as a columnist for The Guardian “by mutual agreement” as a result of the comment.
On 13 January 2007, The FA charged Newcastle player Emre Belözo?lu with “using racially-aggravated abusive and/or insulting words”, referring to an incident during the 3-0 defeat by Everton at Goodison Park on 30 December 2006. Emre was, on 16 February 2007, accused of more racist behaviour, this time against Bolton’s El Hadji Diouf.
In November 2008, Middlesbrough’s Egyptian forward Mido was subjected to Islamophobic chanting from a small number of Newcastle United fans. Mido had been subjected to similar chants the previous year, again from Newcastle fans. Player John Barnes was targeted by his own team’s fans.
FIFA Against Racism
FIFA (Federation International de Football Association) has been aware of the racism problem for some time but recent events, especially in Europe, have given the need for concerted action an added urgency. While the main emphasis of the practical measures will inevitably remain at national and local level, FIFA has recognized the unique role it has in coordinating opinions and expertise from all corners of the globe to share experiences and to find effective solutions. FIFA has tried to fight back against these acts through fines and bans, yet the issue is still in rise. Are these measures anything more than a glorified advert from FIFA and UEFA to show the world that they are trying to do something? And are they really going to get to the root of the problem?
“The solution to this problem, as to any other, lies firstly in identifying it and acknowledging its existence,” says FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. “Anyone who
complacently maintains that racism is impossible in their territory is not only wrong but irresponsible.”
Advertisers who have a key role in the European soccer world should be sensitized to the problem. Individual advertisers and the advertising industry can be encouraged to take an active stance regarding expressions of racism. This could include language in contracts requiring clubs or arenas to undertake specific measures to combat racism, with ads being pulled if there is non-fulfillment of contract conditions.
Media outlets can devote more consistent attention to reporting on violent and racist incidents on the sports field, including detailed reports on follow-up actions, prosecution and disciplinary measures.
What about the African Players?
Personally, I have stopped watching the club games because of these insulting acts. Yet, lately, I have realized that my action is just justifying - if not encouraging - the perpetrators to continue on their endaveours. Walking away is not the solution for fans. Anyone who calls himself a fan of a team ought to stand up against these acts by showing no tolerance of such acts even among friends and families.
African players have the right to walk out of the field if they feel subjected to such treatment - especially if coming from their own team’s fans. At one point, they ought to put dignity and pride before money, even if it means losing a contract.
Alternative to European clubs
As the racial slurs and chants continue to rise, and with teams and federations not taking more actions against these acts, African players ought to start considering other markets other than Europe. Maybe this is the time to invest back to Africa? The African Cup of Nations has been attracting more media and advertisement than never before. This is because of the sheer joy and exuberance exhibited by the African players freed from the more restrictive patterns of their European pro teams.
The quality of African soccer game has lately drawn attention from big sponsors such as Canon. The world recognizes the talents held by African in the Football sport and African needs to value themselves by not tolerating these racial slurs and chants when they play for their pro teams.