For a while, we thought it had gone away. But racism in sport raised its ugly, hateful head again when Chelsea fans pushed a black man out of a Paris Metro train last week while shouting racist chants. The commuter, identified as Souleymane S, was seen in an amateur video footage being repeatedly pushed off the train as he tried to board it, with the fans chanting: “We are racist, we are racist and that’s the way we like it!”
French football legend Lilian Thuram believes that the Chelsea fans “should stand trial”. “This was very violent,” said Thuram, one of the stars in France’s 1998 World Cup-winning side. “It’s violence against human beings. This deed is a summary of all racist deeds. You have people suddenly saying ‘I don’t know you but I deny you the right to…’ Why? ‘Because you are black’.”
Thuram, who set up the Education Against Racism foundation in 2008, added: “Some people have this thought pattern that this is a superiority complex inherited from history. It’s on film… you can’t deny it. It happens every day.”
Racial discrimination is not news anymore. It cuts across all aspects of life and sport is no exception. Almost all major sports have had incidents of racial discrimination. Football, cricket and the NBA have made us hang our heads in shame with their racial incidents. We still remember with regret how Indian cricket fans made racial gestures and monkey chants at all-rounder Andrew Symonds during Australia’s 2007 tour to India. There are other sports, too, where we can, if we listen carefully, hear the whispers of racial abuse.
In 2014, there were 106 reported incidents of racism in flobal sport. Football witnessed the most number of incidents, leading the table with 80 reported cases, including racial slurs, anti-Semitic chants, waving of Nazi flags, bananas thrown on to the field, racial abuse, monkey gestures and racist placards or banners. Football fans had racially abused forty players and an entire team in 2014.
It is sad that in the colourful world of sports, we see only black or white.
“I want respect… only respect.” This was the cry of a humiliated footballer.
Marc Zoro, a defender from Ivory Coast who played for Messina in the Italian league during the mid-2000, was in tears as Inter Milan fans shouted racial chants at him during a match in 2007. Zoro had been abused earlier in Sicily as well. But he refused to take it this time. Zoro picked up the ball and walked off to hand it over to the fourth official. Inter players intervened, apologised for their foul-mouthed fans and tried to calm Zoro down.
In a match against Australia in 2005, an injured Makhaya Ntini — South Africa’s first black Test player — hobbled to the crease. Shane Warne shouted to his teammates to “get this John Blackman out”. Ntini could not get the pun. He was offended.
Multiple Grand Slam winner Serena Williams was jeered the moment she appeared on court and was booed throughout during the Indian Wells tournament in 2001. Venus (Serena’s sister) and her father were walking down the stairs to their seats, when one guy shouted from the gallery: “I wish it was 1975 (referring to the Los Angeles race riots); we would skin you alive.”
In a riot of colours, we deal with black and white.
If sport was racially biased, Jesse Owens would not have embarrassed Adolf Hitler and his “Aryan theory” at the 1936 Berlin Olympics; Brian Lara would not have crossed Allan Border as the highest Test run-getter; Tiger Woods would not have electrified the golf courses; Serena and Venus would not have stocked their home with Grand Slams; and Usain Bolt and a host of black sprinters would not have ruled the roost in 100 metres.
The scourge of football
All is not well with the ‘Beautiful Game’. Over the years, the increasing incidents of racial abuse in football across Europe have been a concern to all. From Spain to Italy to the UK, France to the Netherlands, racism has taken a dangerous dimension.
Black footballers in Europe, especially in Spain and Italy, are easy targets of racial abuse. Over the years, even some of the best players such as Thierry Henry — only a few players could hold a candle to him in football skills — have been subjected to the ugly chants of racist fans.
In November 2004, during a friendly between England and Spain at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, several black players in the England side were booed each time they touched the ball. The racial epithets that the Spanish fans shouted made headlines across the UK. Surprisingly, little did it reflect in the Spanish media.
In 2003, when Barcelona visited the Bernabéu to play arch-rival Real Madrid, Cameroon star Samuel Eto’o was the target. Every time he kicked the ball, the crowd mimicked monkey noises. Across Spain, black players have repeatedly been abused by “vulgar mobs”.
It is shocking to know that the racial taunts come not just from the crowd but from the very helm of the Spanish team. In 2004, FIFA fined national coach Luis Aragones $3,500 for referring to Henry as “black shit” in his address to his team. The fine was equal to only a day’s salary the coach earned. FIFA should not make themselves a butt of ridicule with similar acts of “benevolence”.
Racism has long been a menace in Italian football as well. When Udinese were to sign Israeli striker Ronnie Rosenthal in 1990, the club’s right-wing fans staged massive protests. In the end, the club had to give in, and Rosenthal joined Liverpool.
Perugia’s dark-skinned midfielder Fabio Liverani was a target of racist abuse all over the country, despite being an Italian and having played for the national team. England’s Emile Heskey, too, bore the brunt of racial abuse when England played in Italy.
During a Roma-Lazio match way back in 2001, the Lazio fans came up with a choreography of blue-and-white placards which spelt the word merda (shit). There were also banners that said squadra di negri (team of blacks). During the match, Roma’s black players Aldair, Cafu and Jonathan Zebina were booed and abused.
In February 2003, during a Getafe-Real Madrid match, the former’s Cameroonian-born midfielder Daniel Kome was subjected to so much racial abuse by the crowd that the El Pais reporter Diego Torres commented: “Eight out of 10 people were monkey chanting. It was more or less the whole stadium. Even the VIP section was monkey chanting. Most of the crowd was middle class, even upper class.”
It is not only the crowd who wear their emotions and beliefs on their sleeve. Players, too, stoke racial flames.
In 2005, Lazio’s Paolo di Canio — who won a FIFA Fair Play award in 2001 — was banned for one match after performing a Nazi salute to fans for the second week in succession. The 39-year-old former Italian international was also fined €8,000. It was the third time that Di Canio had made the fascist gesture. In another instance, he was fined €10,000 for a similar salute. Crowd behaviour may be beyond a club’s control, but players should show more responsibility in their public conduct.
This behaviour has to be rooted out of sports. But, unfortunately, both the Spanish and Italian governments are relatively lethargic, unlike the British, in pulling up and punishing the racial abusers. Britain has tough legal measures to confront racists in sports like in any other sphere of society.