Posted On Thursday, 4th April 2013
Early this year, Ghanaian midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, was racially abused by a small section of Pro Patria fans in a friendly held at Busto Arsizio.
While incidents similar to this are not infrequent in European football, what set this occurrence apart was Boateng’s reaction after listening to their chants; he kicked the ball into the crowd, ripped his shirt off and walked off the field, with his fellow Milan teammates following suit.
Professional football players have been called on time and again by both officials and pundits alike to carry on playing and to leave issues of racism to match officials owing to the fact that “stopping the game simply rewards the racists”.
But this incident, along with over 40 others in the last decade, have exhibited the rather obvious reality that financial sanctions inflicted upon football clubs and federations across Europe by governing bodies such as FIFA or UEFA are simply not enough to abolish racial prejudice in football.
While Boateng’s actions yet again brought to the spotlight the ugly side to what many call “The Beautiful Game”, three months down the line since the affair at Busto Arsizio, football enthusiasts, authorities and the media alike must ask themselves – did Boateng’s actions in any manner aid the seemingly perpetual struggle to end racism in the game? And if not, what is it going to take?
In terms of positive change, first and foremost, Kevin-Prince Boateng was given a role on an anti-discrimination taskforce set up by FIFA after a meeting with FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter – demonstrating that FIFA were ready to take this issue up seriously with Boateng spearheading their aim to crack down on racial discrimination.
Furthermore and preceding this nomination, in early March, the head of the aforementioned taskforce, FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb, demonstrated that FIFA were fully aware that monetary penalties were effective in curbing incidents of racial prejudice, and discussed a number of alternative methods that showed signs of being tougher measures to prevent racism at football games.
And finally, Boateng also later discussed possible methods that do seem to be steps in the right direction. These included banning fans guilty of racism from all stadiums in his or her country and, on on a larger scale, sacking players guilty of racial discrimination from their clubs and banning them from playing in his or her country.
Thus far, it could be said that FIFA do seem to be taking this issue seriously. But only time will tell whether their actions will yield concrete results in terms of eliminating racial prejudice.
However, at the same time, it is still hard to take for granted that FIFA’s actions will indubitably bear fruit. In November 2012, FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter, in an interview with CNN, denied that racism existed in football, asserting that players who believe that they were racially abused should instead move on and instead shake hands with their opponents – bringing to light the seriousness with which Blatter took this social issue.
With barely two months separating Blatter’s interview and Boateng’s incident, whether FIFA’s actions in 2013 to curb racial discrimination were in reaction to the incident, and perhaps even half-hearted to a certain extent, is yet to be seen.
To add to this, with FIFA attempting to resolve issues of severe mismanagement of the 2022 World Cup bid won by Qatar under highly dubious circumstances while concurrently fighting multiple claims that corruption is rife throughout the organisation, it would not be hard to assume that FIFA is left with little time or resources to focus on curbing racial prejudice in football.
Nevertheless, Kevin-Prince Boateng’s actions have initiated action on the part of FIFA, and thereby have helped the battle against racial discrimination to a certain extent.
Samuel Eto’o, a Cameroonian striker who was racially abused in 2007 while plying his trade at Barcelona against Real Zaragoza, once said that he hoped someone would walk off the pitch in protest so that football’s governing bodies would deliver on their promises of change; Boateng’s actions seem to have certainly set this in motion.
But with the World Cup in 2018 hosted by Russia, a country where racism in football is blatantly obvious to the point where the largest fan club of the largest Russian football club in existence – Zenit St. Petersburg – demanded an all-white, all-heterosexual team in December 2012, FIFA have a delicate situation to work around that could make or break their legitimacy and authority as the largest governing body in football.
Lilian Thuram, the most-capped player in the French national team’s existence who also authored the critically-acclaimed book “My Black Stars”, hoping to enlighten readers in the fight against racial prejudice and intolerance, said that he believed that players with dual-citizenship ought to take the protest against racism one step further by refusing to play any games until adequate action is taken in an attempt to fast-track and force the financial superpowers that run this sport into action.
Football fans around the world, however, will eternally hope that the battle against racial discrimination is resolved by FIFA before such radical measures are even taken into consideration to begin with, let alone deployed. Only time will tell.