By Ollie Godden
As I sit in the Bill Bryson Library, digressing from my degree and the preparation for an imminent presentation on racism in football, I flick onto the BBC Sport home page. ‘Sulley Muntari: Pescara midfielder who protested at racist abuse has ban overturned’ reads the title of an article in the depths of the European Football section. Oh, the irony. For a moment, I consider this a fated nudge to get on with my work and stop looking towards the online sport sections for distractions, but on reflection it acts as a sure reminder that racism remains an issue at the heart of football, an issue that remains unsolved.
For those unaware, Sulley Muntari, formerly of Portsmouth and Sunderland, was handed a one-match suspension after walking off the pitch in reaction to being shown a yellow card. The yellow card was awarded after Muntari asked the referee to stop the game in light of Cagliari fans racially abusing the 32-year-old. The protest earned him his second yellow, and thus a provisional suspension.
But bow, please, the Italian Football Federation, for restoring justice in this harsh and insensitive footballing world. Hero Muntari has thanked the governing body for listening to him, along with all the fans that supported him. Equilibrium has been restored.
Serie A, although agreeing that the abuse Muntari received was “deplorable,” said that it could not impose sanctions on Cagliari because “approximately ten” supporters were involved – fewer than one percent of their supporters in the ground.
If this is the remit for charges to be brought against a club, up to 800 individuals can turn up to the San Siro, home of Italian giants Inter and AC Milan, and racially abuse an opposition player, safe in the knowledge there will be no implications for their beloved club.
Let fans know that this behaviour is inexcusable and simply criminal
How this is explained away through percentages is truly beyond me. In the fight for equality, there can be no leeway. Federations must stop at nothing to bring justice to the table. Fine Cagliari money, points, whatever is necessary, and let their fans learn that this behaviour is not just “deplorable” but inexcusable, and simply criminal.
On the incident, Pescara manager Zdenek Zeman was quoted as saying “Muntari was right, but he shouldn’t have left the pitch. It’s not up to us to dole out justice. We can talk a lot about it but then it must be left with the powers that be.”
He could not be more wrong. It should not and cannot be the sole responsibility of a national governing body or anti-discrimination corporation to police and punish racism. A stand must be taken by anyone in a position of authority, be it players, managers, owners or coaches.
Former Tottenham striker and Kick It Out ambassador Garth Crooks spoke eloquently of the required action in this situation. “I’m calling on players in Italy, black and white, to make it absolutely clear to the federation in Italy that their position is unacceptable,” he argued, “and if the decision is not reversed then they withdraw their services until it is.”
Of course, it is no surprise that individuals do not take a stand when they have no support from the authorities in doing this.
Muntari was at AC Milan when then-teammate Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the pitch because of racist chanting during a friendly against lower-league side Pro Patria in January 2013. It prompted a wave of support on social media. But FIFA, football’s world governing body, still said it did not condone his decision to walk off.
Only two months ago, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura spoke at the FIFA equality and inclusion conference. “Diversity is the only way forward,” she passionately claimed. “Not only because morally it is the right thing to do, but because there is richness in it.”
It is about time FIFA started acting upon the rhetoric they constantly spurt
It is about time FIFA and the respective authorities start acting upon the rhetoric they constantly spurt at these annual conferences. Equality and justice are terms bandied about far too often with far too little action. At a time when equality is being sociologically championed, the same should be happening in football.
It begins from the top. When FIFA finally take a stand against racism, so too will national governing bodies, so too will the football leagues, and so too will the individuals. We must strive for environments free of discrimination and stop the degradation forced upon our beautiful game, for the good of the future and for the good of the sport.
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons