Is FIFA Facing a Player Revolt Against Racism?

Kevin-Prince Boateng's walk-off could change the game

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Antonio Calanni / AP

AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, of Ghana, sports a jersey reading "AC Milan against racism" prior to the start of the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Siena at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013.

(Updated: Sunday, Jan. 6, 11.45 a.m.)

FIFA, you have a problem.

The player walk-off led by AC Milan’s Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng last week to protest racist abuse during a friendly match against a lower-tier Italian club could mark the beginning of a player revolt against the ineffective anti-racism efforts by soccer‘s international administrators. Until now, players have been required, under threat of cards and suspensions, to take no action in response to racist abuse from the crowd, but instead to leave it the issue to the referee and match officials. But the efforts by FIFA and its affiliates — wrist-slap fines imposed on teams and national federations whose fans have transgressed being the strongest sanction used thus far – haven’t stopped the abuse. Boateng’s action was a defiant rebuke, not only to the racists in the crowd, but to the officialdom that has failed to effectively tackle the problem. If walking off becomes a trend,  which it threatens to do, it will present a profound crisis for the game’s administrators.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter expressed ambivalence in his first public response to the Boateng incident: In comments reported Sunday, he  told Abu Dhabi’s National newspaper that he supported Boateng and that FIFA would maintain a zero-tolerance policy on racism, but added that “I don’t think [walking off] is the solution.” He continued: “I don’t think you can run away, because eventually you can run away if you lose a match. This issue is a very touchy subject, but I repeat there is zero tolerance of racism in the stadium; we have to go against that.”  The only solution, Blatter, said, was “to be very harsh with the sanctions – and the sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar.” Meaningful sanctions would mark a shift, rather than continuity of the currently policy, however. Until now, teams have faced only small-change financial penalties when their fans have racially abused players.

As things stand, Boateng would face punishment if he left the field in a competitive game, but the player has warned that he intends to repeat his action if encountering similar abuse. “I don’t care what game it is, a friendly, Italian league or Champions League match, I would walk off again,” he told CNN on Friday.

And the huge outpouring of support from fellow players — and even from AC Milan’s owner, a certain Mr. Silvio Berlusconi — underscores the view that Boateng’s action was a moment of rupture: “I was angry and I was sad, but it all came together and I said I don’t want to play anymore,” he told CNN. “It’s not the first time in my life that I’ve heard these things, but I’m 25 now and I’ve had enough this bullshit.”

They had initially tried to restrain him from leaving the field, but when he walked, Boateng’s teammates followed, and even many in the crowd applauded. If it had been a competitive fixture, UEFA would be in a quandary: The European body actually suspended two black players from England for gesturing angrily at the crowd after suffering a whole game of racial abuse, and then being assaulted by Serb players and officials. Some of the Serb players and coaching staff involved were given longer suspensions, but their federation’s only punishment was a $105,000 fine. More activist football personalities such as former France captain Lillian Thuram suggested at the time that Serbia should be warned that any racial hostility from their fans in any future game would result in ejection from international competition.

Given the storm of protest  over the Serbia-England verdict, both FIFA President Sepp Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini urged UEFA’s disciplinary committee to revisit their findings.

FIFA and UEFA have long sought to protect their multibillion dollar franchise from association with racism, which might unsettle some of their global consumer-brand sponsors. But despite repeatedly denouncing racism, they haven’t managed to stop it from being a problem in stadiums, and have effectively tied the hands of players in responding. Blatter had been at the center of an earlier firestorm after appearing, in a CNN interview, to diminish the impact of racism in the game.

Now, Boateng has potentially created a turning point.

“He’s raised the bar by taking this action and being so widely praised for it, because other footballers in the same situation will now have to respond to his lead,” says Duke University historian Laurent Dubois, who has written extensively on soccer and blogs at Soccer Politics . “It’s a pivotal moment because Boateng has introduced a new option, which creates a moral quandary for his fellow players. Many black players believe that only when football clubs and federations are made to pay a price for racism in the stadium will they act decisively to resolve it. The next step will be doing it in a place where it really hurts a team or a tournament — in a competitive match. That would create an institutional crisis for FIFA.”

(VIDEO: Mario Balotelli On Soccer Racism)

Some football pundits — and even Boateng’s former teammate and fellow black player Clarence Seedorf – repeated the argument that stopping the game simply rewards the racists. But the Ghanaian’s action drew a huge outpouring of support from some of the game’s most celebrated players. “It was brave of Kevin-Prince Boateng to do what he did today, and it was the right thing,” tweeted former French World Cup winner and Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira.  “We need to stand up and stand together. Well done.”

There were also salutes from, among others, Manchester City and Belgium captain Vincent Kompany  and Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand. Former AC Milan and Dutch legend Ruud Gullit  tweeted: “Great action of #princeboateng and again the referee didn’t do anything. Very proud of #milan who support boateng…” Nor was the support confined to black players.

Boateng and the players who’re supporting him have put the onus on fans and officials to stamp out racism, just as they have stamped out other forms of hooliganism at European stadiums two decades ago. That’s a course of action Thuram has been urging. Interviewed last year over racist comments attributed to French football officials, Thuram said:

“Imagine if all those players on the French national team today declared that, until something is done about this case, they’ll refuse to wear the jersey. You’d see things get worked out very quickly. Rosa Parks left a mark on history because one day she, and African-Americans, said: ‘We can’t sit in any seat we’d like? Well, then we won’t get on the bus.’ If players did the same thing, the French Federation would take the problem of racism in football much more seriously… That’s why I think they need to stand up and say, ‘If that’s the way it is, then you can go on without us.’ And you’ll see, there will be a response. Because at that point you’ll be hurting the money men behind sports, and they won’t accept it.”

Boateng has acted on Thuram’s call to rebellion — and  his stance has been greatly amplified and reinforced by social media. “Thanks to social media, the whole football world has seen the video of Boateng’s action, and that has allowed an event in an irrelevant game at a marginal club to potentially start an international firestorm,” says Sean Jacobs, a professor in International Affairs at the New School for Social Research and editor of the Africasacountry blog. “Then, Twitter became the vehicle for dozens of other top players to come out and back Boateng’s action, creating a groundswell of support for a challenge to the status quo of football’s handling of crowd racism.”

Sepp Blatter should be worried. FIFA is viewed by many players as feckless in dealing with racism in the game. Just five years from now, the Federation will stage its multibillion-dollar quadrennial centerpiece World Cup tournament in Russia, which remains a hotbed of racist and fascist mobilization in football stadiums. Three weeks ago, Russia’s top club, Zenit St. Petersburg hit the headlines when their largest fan organization demanded that only white footballers play on the team, and racial abuse of black players is commonplace in the country’s professional league. Zenit will be in the spotlight on Valentine’s Day when English club Liverpool visit for a Europa League match, with the Reds expected to start three or four black players. If footballers elect to draw a line in the sand by warning that crowd racism will bring an end to games, FIFA could be put in an untenable position. Or, at least, it will be unless the game’s administrators find the courage to start imposing some real pain on clubs and federations that fail to stamp it out before then.

(MORE: Zenit’s Nadir: Russian Team’s Fans Call For Whites-Only Policy)

35 comments
Ocsicnarf
Ocsicnarf

racism is bad so thanks to FIFA (but too much soccer in the news)

ReginaldCharleston
ReginaldCharleston

Boys and girls, it’s an undeniable fact that massive third-world immigration and forced integration is demanded of EVERY White country and ONLY White countries, and according to the United Nations this is GENOCIDE. Many who say they are anti-racist are really just anti-White. Everybody but Mommy Professor knows that anti-racist is a code word for anti-White.

heisenberg1
heisenberg1

People say that there’s this RACISM problem. People say that this RACISM problem will be solved when the developing world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve the RACISM problem by bringing in millions of non-white people and “assimilating” with them.

People say that the final solution to the RACISM problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries (along with EVERY white community and white institution) to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry & amalgamate with all those non-whites.

What if I said there was this RACISM problem and this RACISM problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACISM problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

jenswen
jenswen

Fact check: (that most US citizens should recognize)-- the story about Rosa Parks was that she wouldn't give up her seat on the bus, not that she wasn't going to take the bus-- (which doesn't match up as well as a soccer player walking off the field, but those are the facts...)

easyweblinx
easyweblinx

when will there be a revolt against corruption.............


easysportslinx.com

JayLewis
JayLewis

It is no secret that Europeans have developed a racist culture. Spain has a severe problem of racism. The United Nations needs to develop an anti-racist training course to be taught in every European elementary school before a new Hitler is born. Their level of racism indicates that thousands of years of ignorance have persisted. Every human was created by the creator. We should be making love and not wars. Let us all enjoy sports. The games last weekend of soccer, NFL, NBA, and the Tournament of Champions were very good. http://x.co/rmv2

JeffreyDavidBirch
JeffreyDavidBirch

I CAN STOP RACISM IN A FEW WEEKS:
All that needs to happen in a match is for the team that has the abusive supporters
to walk off the field of play in respect of there fellow professionals. They then will be
punished by the FA or FIFA and fore-fit the match.
Is this asking too much?
(answer) Its a small price to pay to stop racism.
How & why will this work?
(answer) Because it's only a minority that are doing this and all the decent supporters
won't be too happy about paying a lot of money to see there team walk off the field of play
and fore-fit the game. They will soon sort it out amongst themselves.

I have witnessed people misbehaving behind the goal at Colchester only for a fellow supporter or two of that club to turn around and tell them to stop. I know we are talking about bigger matches than those at Colchester but the principals are the same and the culprits are a minority and the majority can send out a very clear message that we do not stand for racism at this club.

LET THE SUPPORTERS STOP THE RACISM
Fellow supporter of Football Jeff Birch

raveye
raveye

Let's put this in perspective (as I understand it). FIFA/UEFA bosses telling Boateng he should not have walked off is like telling Rosa Parks she should have willingly given up her seat on the bus or Gandhi should have obliged and come of the train willingly.

Okasis
Okasis

If Futbol is anything like baseball and basketball, separate leagues would rapidly demonstrate [once again] that the White Guys often have trouble competing against talented minorities.  Blacks, Latinos, Samoans, and Asians are the heavy weights of Boxing, Baseball, American Football. 

I suppose racist Fans of Racist Organizations wouldn't mind watching a bunch of losers - and paying money for the experience. But those who enjoy the beautiful Game because it is just that will go where the competition and players are the best, be they playing on segregated teams, or integrated ones. Jacky Robinson proved that in the 1950s, as did Joe Lewis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Mohammad Ali.


The Quality of the players and the game on the pitch is what draws the crown - not the chance to show of how many Racist and Obscene words a person knows. The Players don't have Cherry ears by the time they make the top Leagues, but they do make enough money for the owners to walk away from shit when it gets to deep.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Leave it to TIME Magazine to drum up controversy where there is none...

These cry-baby players who walk out of games may soon find themselves out of a job.  That's because (by contract) they are required to adequately represent the sporting organization for which they play.  In other words, "no pay for those who don't play."

That also extends to the players' endorsement deals/contracts.  Lets say the player inks a deal with Nike.  Would Nike really want the 'face' of its product to be that of a 25-year old (my age too) who can't handle a couple of racist slurs (which aren't even directed at him)?  Since Nike is greek for "Victory," does that big baby really exhibit Victory in any sense of the word?

These walk outs will be confined to the truly infantile players in the sport.  The threat of being thrown off a team and/or losing high-value endorsement deals will (thank God) keep these player-led tantrums to a minimum.  

LogicalPosition
LogicalPosition

Simple solutions are the best solutions.  SEGREGATE the players by race, as they already do for SEX! Let the blacks play among themselves and offer white fans(the majority of paying customers) the opportunity to see whites teams compete.

JGR13
JGR13

Apparently it is still the 1960's in Europe.

leo_diva
leo_diva

the big problem with European football is that there are too many black players and it is starting to bother the fans....It is very politically incorrect to say this of course....

ChiefBroom
ChiefBroom

The solution is simple. Have the players put on jerseys without any sponsors on the outfit the moment the racial abuse starts. And at that moment the sponsors can refuse all money associated with that game. FIFA would respond with force then!

3rdWorldThinker
3rdWorldThinker

KPB's walking off the pitch may be an act that is praised world wide, but I concur with Seedorf on the part that ending football matches because of racist gestures might send the wrong signals. Racist chanters might be encouraged to repeat these actions having realised some power they have over the game. The best idea would be to turn out the small number of disturbers if it can be managed without disturbing the game.

Blatter and Platini need to step up their game too in tackling this situation. Heavier fines and playing home games in empty stadia might be a deterrents. 

abel22
abel22

@mrbomb13 

you are a shameless scum.You would do anything for money.You are a very dangerous human being.

MarkMoko
MarkMoko

@mrbomb13 2 points that show your amazing level of ignorance about how the world works:

1. If you actually read the story, you would see that AC Milans owner, Silvio Berlusconi backed his player, and thought what he did was justified. So this guy is not about to lose his job. 

2. There is no way NIKE is going to tell players to take racist abuse at the risk of losing their contract. Majority of the players endorsing NIKE are people of color. 

Your jealousy over high achieving 25 year old soccer players is kind of seeping through your post. You might want to concentrate on sorting out your life rather than telling Prince to suck it up

youngballer29
youngballer29

@mrbomb13 You are ridiculous. Money isn't what is important. Stoping racism is. They already have enough money where walking away would not damage them. Maybe you aren't a minority that has felt the sting of a racial slur? It doesn't matter if it's aimed at someone specific, or just a certain kind of people in general. It's wrong in every way. Do you think any NBA, NFL, MLB players would stand for this kind of thing in their stadiums? Not a chance. They would all protest until the problem is fixed, or not participate at all. 

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@LogicalPosition 

Very interesting proposal you have there.

However, segregation (at least to my American ears) sounds sooooo pre-1950s (a.k.a. "separate, but equal" under the famous 1890s Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson).

Would you please lay out your substantiation for why soccer segregation would not be racist?  I would be very interested to hear and consider your reasoning.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@leo_diva 

Europe is going through what America has already gotten over.

For decades, Baseball, Basketball, and Football were dominated by Whites (with a few black exceptions).

However, Blacks and Latinos have assimilated into Baseball.

Blacks (with comparatively few Latinos) have dominated Basketball.

Yet, in Football, the only positions not dominated by Blacks/other races are Quarterbacks and Kickers.  That's why guys like Dominic McNabb and Robert Griffin III cause so much media fan-fare.  The NFL is desperate to market decent Black QBs and Kickers, and will seize on any chance they get.  

It will be interesting to see how Europe handles integrating other races into sports.  As an American, I also thought Europe was more politically correct than America.  In the world of sports, I guess I was wrong...

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@3rdWorldThinker 

Just to play Devil's Advocate, how exactly would you define a, "disturber?"

Would it be one who JUST hurls racist insults?  Or, would encompass racists and those who cry, "boooooooooo!" at a referee's call?

How would you balance Free Speech with "keeping the peace" measures?

adnan7631
adnan7631

@3rdWorldThinker 

Think about it this way, the people came and paid money to watch a soccer game. Not to through out racist chants. When a player walks off and the game is suspended, the fans lose the product they paid for. Not only that, but it puts pressure on the racist ones from the normal fans for causing them to waste their money and time. 

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@abel22 @mrbomb13 

Before I comment further, I will need you to justify the following points:

1) How I'm a "shameless scum."

2) Why you think I would do anything for money.

3) Why I'm a dangerous human being.

Thank you.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@MarkMoko @mrbomb13 

First, thank you for your reply to my comment.  Just a couple of points-of-clarification:

1) In this case, the owner (Berlusconi) did indeed back his player.  In the grand scheme of things, that player was incredibly lucky.  Given that, you're right that THIS player isn't likely to lose his job.

2) However, you cannot commit the logical fallacy of over-generalization.  Your position makes the elementary mistake of assuming that this chain-of-events will be repeated all around the sports world.  To that, I say, "surely, you jest."  Unfortunately, you're only kidding yourself if you think that owners/coaches would take that kind of juvenile behavior on a wide-scale basis.  Those organizations are training their teams TO WIN, and not to "turn tail, and run off the field" when they feel the crowd is being insensitive.

3) If the players forfeit enough games, I can promise you that Nike will intervene to stop the walk-outs/madness.  From a business perspective, Nike is making a substantial investment in each endorsed player.  It's a basic principle of business that says Nike will act in its own best interests.  Those 'interests' include making money.  If a player is refusing to play, that player is not a profitable venture for Nike.  

4) Do you have any studies, statistics, surveys, or any other quantitative/qualitative data to support your assertion that the majority of Nike's endorsed players are "players of color?"  I would be interested in viewing any and all evidence to support that point.

5) Your comment about alleged 'jealousy' is completely unfounded in fact.  Trust me, I possess absolutely no jealousy of any professional athlete.  As indicated above, my interest lies in business pursuits.

6) Given that I've just graduated with my MBA (and have several lucrative job offers, a wonderful family, a fantastic girlfriend, and a large network of friends), I believe my life is as "sorted out" as I could hope for at this point.

7) A little bit of "tough love" never hurt anyone.  There is nothing wrong with telling a professional player to, "get out of his head, and get back in the game!!!"  

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@youngballer29 @mrbomb13 

First, thanks for your reply to my comment.  It appears that a couple of points-of-clarification are needed:

1) Personal attacks (i.e. calling me 'ridiculous') have no place in any discussion.  If you're going to be critical, than be critical of my positions, and not me personally (especially since you've never before met me).

2) I agree that stopping racism is important.  No argument there.

3) In sports, money does matter.  When an athlete is contracted to represent an organization, he/she is the 'face of that organization.'  Therefore, that athlete has a responsibility to uphold their end of the contract to the best of their ability.  Regardless of their feelings on race, those athletes should not have walked out of the game.  Doing so is a breach of contract violation, and could result in a lawsuit.

4) "How much money the athletes make" is irrelevant.  They are contracted to play, and must abide by that contract.

5) Whether or not I'm a minority is irrelevant.  You shouldn't make any presumptuous assumption either way.

6) "Whether any NBA/NFL/MLB would stand for racism" is irrelevant.  They too are under contract.

7) Without further data (NOT personal feelings), you cannot assume that all of the players would "hold a lock-out" if racism was occurring.  That's more your dream to fit your argument as opposed to an objective reality.

LogicalPosition
LogicalPosition

Segregation would satisfy the needs of BOTH sides of this issue. The Minority player would feel more comfortable and the White fans would enjoy the game much more. Maybe you are not familiar with BET TV, JET magazine, or the NAACP whereby only Black concerns are addressed and promoted. If you attend ANY public function where there is a mix of races, you will notice how the races segregate of their own free will. People actually prefer to be with their own kind, it's the natural order of humanity. Common Sense!

dubya4517
dubya4517

@adnan7631 , most fans do come to matches with that in mind. The ones who behave badly are in the minority (at least one hopes so). But the majority do not police the minority, do they? And they won't. Seedorf is right, at least in the short term, that it would encourage the loudmouths to be even more obnoxious in the hopes that the opposing team will walk off and forfeit.

in_my_opinion
in_my_opinion

Because too much ignorance is always dangerous.

MatthewTesfai
MatthewTesfai

@mrbomb13 @youngballer29 The reason why we don't have racist fans in the NBA is because the fans know that type of behavior will not be tolerated. A player just might walk into the stands and deck you. See the Malice at the Palace. They called Ron Artest the n word and he put that guy to sleep and the racist fan was then banned from that stadium for life. 

in_my_opinion
in_my_opinion

I don't know where you live, but they'd love to have you over in St Petersburg. Anyway, the races mix/interact very well where I live, so maybe you've been hanging around racists and that's why other races distance themselves.

in_my_opinion
in_my_opinion

I don't know where you live, but the races get along quite well where I live., and even sit beside each other during public events lol

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@LogicalPosition 

Actually, they used to employ racial segregation in American sports.  In the 1940s, as an example, they had the Negro League in baseball.  However, it was decided that such segregation was wrong, and now the races are thoroughly integrated in virtually all American sports.  Unlike European sporting events, you would not witness racial jeers'insults/taunts at American sporting events.

Regarding the Black media networks (i.e. BET) and political organizations (i.e. NAACP), those are in existence to promote the importance of Black culture.  Of course, the obvious question becomes, "why not have a White Television Channel or White Advancement Association?."  Well, the non-politically correct answer is that a measure of White guilt still exists in America.  Whites still feel bad about slavery/segregation, and feel that Blacks are owed compensation.  Those networks/organizations are disguised apologies, and illustrate the tacit consent that Blacks merit more recognition than they've been given in the past.

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