Unfortunately, time-and-time again we learn of incidents of racism in sport. I’ve written about some before.
The most recent truly awful example is from a football match in Italy.
It concerns Sulley Muntari, an 84-game Ghanaian international who plays for Pescara in the Serie A, Italy’s premier competition. He has previously played for teams such as Milan, Internazionale, Udinese and Portsmouth.
In last weekend’s match against Cagliari, Muntari was subject to continuing racist abuse by Cagliari supporters.
At the end of the first half, he walked over to a family of Cagliari fans, gave his team shirt to a child with his parents, and asked him to stop making animal noises. Sulley explained that it was insulting to every black footballer and said that it was “really horrible”.
Did the fans, or the parents, feel contrite? No, the noise got worse in the second half.
Having earlier received a yellow card for talking to spectators during the game, Sulley asked the referee to intervene during the second half. The referee did nothing.
So what did Sulley do?
He decided enough was enough. He was true to himself. He walked off the pitch.
The referee gave him another yellow card – a technically correct decision, but a morally bereft one – which means he’s suspended for this weekend’s fixture.
The management of the Serie A competition have said they found the racist chants “deplorable” but they can’t do anything because there were only “about” ten fans involved. Cagliari says they heard no racist abuse. UEFA and FIFA are silent.
But here’s a simple message for the Serie A: ten people hurling racist abuse is ten too many.
While organisations such as Kick It Out and FIFPro have condemned the lack of action from Serie A, a former Tottenham Hotspurs striker, Garth Crooks, has come up with a way to make people sit-up and take notice. He’s calling on “every self-respecting black player” in the Italian league to go on strike unless Sulley Muntari’s suspension is withdrawn.
How will racism be eradicated from sport if the sports administrators don’t act?
Those ‘ten’ Cagliari fans will do it again. Others who think the same way as them will be encouraged to behave the same way. They know that the people in charge of the game don’t care and will not act to stop it.
And who’s their example?
A few years back when up for re-election as President of the Italian FA, Carlo Tavecchio, referred to the need for stricter checks on imported players. He said players who were “yesterday eating bananas” too easily become champions of precious Serie A teams.
Fans, politicians and commentators all branded him a racist and wanted him to withdraw his candidacy. He won.
At FIFA, an Anti-Racism taskforce was disbanded last year. It had only met three times in 3.5 years. FIFA explained that the taskforce had been ‘temporary’ only and all of the recommendations had been implemented.
It was news in every sense to the taskforce members who included a former Cabinet Minister who had been on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, journalists, players, referee and advocacy groups involved in racism. They had particularly expressed concern about racism in Italy, Spain and parts of Eastern Europe, and commented that FIFA had “failed to take any strong, direct action to change the attitude” of the relevant football associations.
FIFA declared the “job is done”. The black, African, Muslim, woman CEO of FIFA also said: “My presence here is a demonstration that Fifa has a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination, not only racism but any kind of discrimination, including violation of human rights.”
With organisations such as FIFA running sport, attitudinal and behavioural change will not happen.
I hope the ‘self-respecting black players’ do as Garth Crook suggested and take things into their own hands this weekend, if the suspension stands.
For Sulley Muntari. For their own sake. And for the sake of the decent non-black football and sports fans who abhor what the ten Cagliari supporters did. Football authorities may be inactive. Players and fans don’t have to be.
#Rise Up and #KickItOut