Black players need protecting in Europe and further afield, a Black Players’ Union would go some way in offering that protection
Intentions and gestures, in this case from governing bodies such as Fifa and Uefa along with various football associations, all mean well, but to put it frankly, the anti-racism campaigns that do the rounds every so often simply are not up to the task.
Juventus and Italy international Moise Kean had monkey chants directed at him by Cagliari fans during a Serie A game earlier in the month. The very same fans cheering Italy on during the last international break – where the 19-year-old made his senior international debut, starring and scoring in both Euro 2020 qualifiers – were subjecting Kean to vile racist abuse.
Serie A’s disciplinary tribunal postponed a decision on the alleged racist abuse aimed at Kean during the Cagliari game and instead handed the Italian forward a €2,000 fine for diving in the penalty area. Mind-boggling.
Kean, one of Europe’s most gifted young talents, received similar treatment back in January during a Coppa Italia tie away to Bologna. Then 18, Kean also scored in that game – his first of the season – and celebrated with the same confidence and verve that’s so uniquely black.
Sadly, such events have not been solely exclusive to Serie A. There have been two high-profile incidents in the Premier League this season involving Arsenal and Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling.
England’s black players – namely Callum Hudson-Odoi, Danny Rose and Sterling – were also subjected to racist abuse in Montenegro back in March. Sterling scored in the 5-1 win and like Kean, fearlessly celebrated in front of the unenlightened Montenegrin mob.
In their post-match interviews, Sterling and Hudson-Odoi, who was making his senior international debut, were asked about the abuse they’d received. To their credit, both were eloquent and forthright in their responses, but it left me shaking my head in disgust at the fact that two young black footballers, once again, found themselves speaking about racist abuse they were subjected to before talking about the actual game and their respective performances.
The Times recently launched a manifesto calling for changes to be made throughout football to fight racism. Put together under the guidance of Kick It Out, FARE and the Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS), the manifesto is backed by current and former black players including Sterling, Andy Cole, Eni Aluko, Michy Batshuayi and Yaya Toure to name a few, as well as managers, Football League clubs and prominent politicians.
There’s reference to an “Independent review group” being established to ensure football’s authorities are following procedures and applying sanctions correctly, with its membership constituted of legal representatives, football administrators and campaigners.
Enter the Black Players’ Union, independent of any governing body or football association. Some may call it radical. I say it’s necessary, much-needed and long-overdue. The Union’s objective will be to ensure the rights of black footballers are protected and feasible and effective measures are taken to safeguard their wellbeing on and off the pitch.
A Black Players’ Union would be able to put pressure on the relevant authorities to properly sanction those responsible for racist abuse – fans, clubs and leagues alike. They can call for unanimous striking action of black players as a consequence of insufficient or unsatisfactory disciplinary action – an extreme measure but completely reasonable if we’re serious about ridding the issue from the game.
Imagine a Union board headed up by former professionals from the five major European leagues – Lilian Thuram for France; Les Ferdinand for England; Marcos Senna for Spain; Gerald Asamoah for Germany; and Fabio Liverani for Italy. All black, all former internationals and all most certainly would have experienced racist abuse during their playing days, so they’ll both relate and empathise with today’s black players.
The same Union blueprint can be implemented in Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal and throughout Europe and further afield, where every black player, regardless of nationality, plying their trade in the said country is automatically eligible for Union representation.
Since his brilliant IG post earlier in the season, Sterling has become the voice on racism in football and he looks drained and fed up whenever he speaks to the media about it. Quite honestly, it should not be the responsibility of one man to speak about an issue that affects so many.
Sadly, racism within society will never be eradicated completely as it’s such a deep-rooted, systemic issue. In saying that, way more needs to be done to tackle the problem in football. A Black Players’ Union would go some way in doing that.
Aluko, Kean, Sterling and other black footballers have brilliantly demonstrated the power and leverage they have in addressing the issue and should be commended for it. But it’s about time they had the support and backing of an organisation fit for purpose, solely looking out for them, to bring about the change and shift in focus that’s so desperately needed in the fight against racism in football.
Words by EugeneOEA