Campaigns seize to work when actual racism occurs, yet the retaliation is nothing but a drop of water on the most ferocious blaze, writes Yvens Tiamou
Football is a sport for entertainment. Fans pack the stands week in, and week out, and for those unfortunate not to get their hands on tickets, pack their living rooms, crowding around the TV, looking for their fix of weekly entertainment. We cheer when our players have pleased us, and jeer when their players have displeased us. Football is a sport for entertaining, however, we mustn’t tread over the line of self-entitlement. Because with this entitlement begets a mentality that the players owe the fans, which in turn breeds a new mentality of ownership over the players, an ownership that enables reckless abandonment.
Sulley Muntari, who now plays his football in Italy for Pescara, was the latest victim of being on the wrong end of that reckless abandonment. No person deserves to be verbally attacked at his or her place of work, and football is no different. A sport it is, yes, but it does not make it acceptable for fans to assume the role of Pied Piper, having players bend to their wants and needs. In your usual office environment, racism is dealt with severity and with immediate effect, but why in football is it’s retaliation to this same beast, met with blunt weaponry that do no damage, but to anger it even more?
Muntari was subjected to racism during a Serie A game against Cagliari back in April, in which he was sent off, after leaving the field of play, choosing not to carry on with his job under the furore of racism. This was a sending off that should’ve strictly been for the Cagliari fans who thought it was ok to make someone feel less than human because of the colour of their skin. However, the temerity in which the officials chose to handle such a delicate matter was not with careful hands. Choosing to send off the Ghanaian, even though he initially pleaded with the officials to police this abhorrent situation just further reinforces fans to carry on with their racist agendas, without any ramifications brought upon them.
As well as being a sport for entertainment, football has become a place where fans exercise their fervent tribalism, and with this comes heckling, hazing and a few gesticulations that suggest disapproval towards a player. These are occupational hazards that live benignly in the sport, but a line must be drawn, as racism continues to dance its way over the border, and the governing bodies of football have shown no significant signs of remedying this poison.
Fifa and Uefa have shown apathy in past incidents involving racism, and at times even rewarded countries – known to be racist and xenophobic – with rights to host international tournaments. So of course in 2017 there would be no movement in their stationary stance on racism, despite running TV ads scheduled during the half-time break of Champions League games. You know, the one with the football stars saying, “No to racism” in their respective language.
Racism campaigns seize to work when actual racism occurs, yet the retaliation is nothing but a drop of water on the most ferocious blaze. A slap on the wrist is futile, when the taking of the whole hand is more deserving, but yet again, players [black] feel let down by the governing bodies that have a duty to protect.
In a recent interview with BBC Sport’s David Ornstein, the ex-Portsmouth player claimed racism was “everywhere and getting worse”, and encouraged players to go on strike to combat it.
“I went through hell, I was treated just like a criminal,” he said. “I went off the field because I felt it wasn’t right for me to be on the field while I have been racially abused.”
Muntari was initially banned for one game, which the Italian Football Federation later rescinded.
At times we’re swept up in the fervour of football, where our passion and emotions are the currency exchanged for happiness. But, there has also been a standing issue where another form of currency has been used for the same gratification. Illegal, but the governing bodies have failed to stop its influx, as racism has found a comfortable home amongst our sport, and there has been tremendous failure to evict it.
Incredulously, the coverage of this Muntari incident hasn’t been as widespread and newsworthy as it should be. Has the topic of racism become an archaic discussion? Do we simply not care anymore? Or are we just, numb?
In the same week, we were informed that Everton winger Aaron Lennon was detained by police under the Mental Health Act, as his welfare caused intriguing concern. Everton have stated to the press that Lennon is currently receiving treatment for stress-related symptoms, which has sparked an outpour of support across the country for his well-being. If racism was classed as a mental illness, would we treat it with the same sensibilities as depression?
Football is more than just 22 players kicking a ball around on a green field. It is more than just a simple game, where players are paid unfathomable wages. These very players aren’t robots devoid of emotions. These players feel; Muntari felt hurt and betrayed, Lennon is going through depression. These are human beings who are both enduring pain, and it is imperative that we do not become selective on who we cradle from a fall.
Muntari is right, football’s governing bodies do not treat the subject of racism seriously. Harsher punishments need to be handed out, and more protection for our players needs to be solidified. Racism should never be tolerated, but exiled, not just out of the game, but also out of existence.
Football matches aren’t circuses where we go to leer at the players stuck in captivity, forced to entertain us against the tyranny of the whip. They’re there to do a job, and although they are paid sizeable wages, it does not equate to a proneness of attacks making them feel less than human.
Fifa, Uefa and all the governing bodies around the leagues, we plead to you to eradicate this cancer that you have allowed to dance freely in this great sport of entertainment. It’s time we all sit down and start serious conversations on how to save and protect our players.
Words by @Yvevolution