Soccer is one of the most popular sports around the world. It’s a game that anyone can play, regardless of who you are, what country you originate from, or the colour of your skin. Soccer is a sport designed to unite people by cheering on your favourite teams and players. The feeling of coming together as one is the true meaning of soccer.
But despite the beauty and high ideals we ascribe to soccer, the sport has a toxic component. Racism has always dogged the beautiful game.
On December 26, 2018, during a match between Italian soccer giants SSC Napoli and Internazionale Milan, the score remained 0-0. Desperately trying to get a goal, Napoli pressed Internazionale hard into their own zone. Nearing the 80th minute, worried Inter fans attempted to get underneath the skin of the Napoli players, aiming to throw them off their game. Napoli star defender Kalidou Koulibaly suddenly became a targeted victim of racial chants coming from the opposing Internazionale fans. Napoli’s head coach, Carlo Ancelotti and numerous Napoli players asked the referee to terminate the game early due to the racist chanting.
“We asked three times for some action to be taken, but the match continued,” Carlo said, ”We keep being told play can be halted, but when?”
The aggravated Koulibaly began to lose his temper and in the 81st minute, he received a yellow card for a foul on Inter’s Matteo Politano. Koulibaly proceeded to get another yellow card immediately after, as he sarcastically applauded the referee’s initial verdict. Due to the second yellow card, Koulibaly was kicked out of the game.
After the match, the head coach was frustrated. “Maybe we have to take matters into our own hands next time and stop play ourselves,” he said. “They’ll probably make us lose the game if we walk off, but we are prepared to do it. It’s not good for Italian football, seeing this.”
A soccer match can be an intense environment, and die-hard fans will do anything to throw big players off their game in order to obtain the upper hand over the opponent. But targeting individuals and performing racist actions just to purposely irritate players is a horrendous and shameful act.
Despite all of the backlash aimed toward Internazionale fans, and attention that the incident received, Koulibaly stood up for himself and wrote this powerful message on Twitter as well as Instagram after the game,
“I’m disappointed by the defeat, but above all at leaving my brothers. I am proud of the colour of my skin. Proud to be French, Senegalese, Neapolitan: a man.”
The Koulibaly incident is just a small act in the grand scheme of all the racism that has plagued the sport and its players for decades. Many other players, including Dani Alves of PSG, Raheem Sterling of Manchester City, and Moise Kean of Juventus, have been victims of racist chanting and racist language in soccer.
In 2014, a fan threw a banana at Dani Alves during a match in the Spanish league. In order to show the crowd that this did not bother him, he found the humour in the situation and proceeded to peel the banana and eat it. When asked about the incident in a press conference after the game, Dani Alves replied, “I don’t know who threw the banana, but I would want to thank him. It gave me the energy to give two more crosses that ended in a goal.” Another incident occurred in 2018 to Raheem Sterling when playing against Chelsea in the English Premier League. The Chelsea supporters allegedly started chanting racially charged words directed toward Raheem. He just ignored the chants and continued to play his game. More recently, in April of 2019, similar to the Koulibaly incident, Moise Kean of Juventus was subjected to more racism while playing against Cagliari in Sardegna, Italy. While he was on the field Cagliari supporters were shouting monkey noises at Kean, likening his African heritage to that of monkeys. In response to this cruel chanting, Kean scored and sealed the victory for Juventus.
Over the past decade, there has been a continuous pattern linking the occurrence of racism in soccer toward distinct players of African ethnicity. The pattern of racist abuse consists of fans chanting monkey noises and throwing bananas at these targeted athletes during matches. This horrible existence of racism shows what professional athletes have to endure, however, these athletes can only endure so much. There comes a point where action needs to be taken. So, what is being done to eliminate Racism in European soccer?
Since 2001, UEFA has sustained a close partnership with FARE Network, “which comprises groups and bodies working against intolerance and discrimination across the continent” (UEFA).
On their website, UEFA declares that eliminating racism and intolerance “has become a major priority in recent years” and that they are using their powerful platform “to send out a key and unequivocal message: No to Racism.” The UEFA website also mentions their motive of the ‘No To Racism’ campaign,
“The No to Racism message aims to increase public awareness of intolerance and discrimination in football, as well as developing ideas and strategies on how to fight them.”
On club competition match-days, for instance in major tournaments like the UEFA Champions League, as well as the UEFA Europa League, team captains wear ‘No to Racism’ armbands, and anti-racism messages are played over clubs’ public address systems. Videos are played in stadium screens containing player pictures backing the campaign. For example, in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there was a picture of Lionel Messi holding a ‘Say No To Racism’ poster displayed around the stadium, on the jumbo screen, prior to an Argentina game.
Despite the No To Racism campaign existing since 2001, Racism continues to infiltrate soccer matches to this day.
Starting from the 2017/18 season, UEFA has launched a new campaign called “#EqualGame”.
#EqualGame is meant to evolve from the ‘No To Racism’ campaign, and was implemented in order to give a “fresh new dimension to UEFA’s promotion of diversity, inclusion and accessibility” (UEFA). The new campaign attempts to bring the soccer community closer together and to show how greater diversity can enhance the beautiful game of soccer.
Many athletes around the world are victims of racism and discrimination. With the cooperation and support of fans as well as people around the world, we can limit racism over time by becoming accepting of all ethnicities. As Mario Balotelli, a player whom has faced lots of discrimination once said, “You can’t delete racism. It’s like a cigarette. You can’t stop smoking if you don’t want to, and you can’t stop racism if people don’t want to.” In support of what Balotelli says, people should treat each other with kindness and respect, regardless of the colour of their skin, religion, or country they come from.