Racial prejudice in football

Published 16 Feb 2017

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This paper presents research on racial prejudice in football. The focus is specifically on racial prejudice among players in European soccer. Racial prejudice relates to discrimination of soccer players on the basis of their race. The discrimination can be through use of words and statements which are not race friendly as well as actions which are meant to discriminate against people of a given race.

According to Stuart Sim (2008), Soccer is a very old game that can be traced to the ancient generation including the second century when Chinese were involved in kicking a leather ball through a small hole in a piece of silk cloth strung between two high poles. These were the primitive ages of soccer which has evolved over the decades to gain the current international frenzy witnessed in the modern world. Europe has distinguished itself as the home of the modern day soccer. The concept of buying players promoted by the leading football clubs in Europe and all over the world has led to players of different races and ethnic backgrounds converging in the same soccer team. It is the black players in European soccer clubs who have faced a substantial share of racial discrimination by the white players, funs and even some club administrators.

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In other European nations like Germany, a section of the crowd attending football matches have been noticed showering insults at minority players mainly from Africa and Arab world. This is worsened if their team has lost the match to an opponent team where the minority player is playing for. This discrimination has not spared even African- American players who compete professionally in European leagues. These players give testimonies of having to suffer verbal and physical abuse because of their race both while in the field and when outside the field. It is very unfortunate that these nations continue to host major world soccer games like world cup. In addition, racial prejudice is not only a problem for the minority players but also non-white players who attend these matches. Racial discrimination is so entrenched in some cities that non-white visitors can not venture freely outside the confines of the stadium or their hotels into the town and the villages in fear of being abused both verbally and physically because of their race. Incidences of racial discrimination have always been overshadowed by the hooliganism associated with European soccer matches.

There is however rising trends in racial slurs and racially charged incidents as a result of a number of factors including the increasing racial diversity of formerly all-white clubs. This has been promoted by big European clubs signing players from other nations outside Europe especially harnessing the great potential in Africa. It is the dream of every African soccer players to join these wealthy clubs due to lack of enough resources by African governments to support such talents. The prestigious lifestyles by Africans playing for these clubs are also a motivational model to other players. Growing resistance to immigration from African and Arab nations in several European countries has created some hatred and hostility among natives hence instigating racial prejudice.

The tendency of race-related conflicts to grab headlines and greater scrutiny of such incidents to reverse such trends only serves to worsen racial prejudice. This is especially so when funs realize that they can cause a ruckus and perhaps upset a key opposing player with racial taunts .Racial tension also appears to be fueled by a lack of economic opportunities for whites. The whites blame this trend on black players whom they perceive to have come into their country and grabbed the existing opportunities. This leaves the minority players at the mercy of racist players and funs. Most incidences of racial discrimination pass unnoticed because they happen behind the curtains away from the concerned authorities and some racially discriminated players are just too scared to complain about the natives because they are numerical disadvantage in a new country. (Stuart Sim, 2008).
Racial prejudice in soccer has been identified as a very serious threat to the football clubs and the social setup in this world that is increasingly undergoing globalization. (Stuart Sim ,2008). This has even prompted the

emergence of various antiracism organizations like Kick It Out, a London-based organization which is a member of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) alongside other organizations from thirteen European countries dedicated to fighting racism in soccer. Such organizations have staged antiracism campaigns targeting soccer funs that are found of launching racist attacks on minority players of a rival soccer club. Such overt racial prejudices take the form of harassment of the player, physical and verbal assaults, spitting at the players car or name calling. Such incidences have made minority players to fear for their lives and even explore the possibility of foregoing the luxurious opportunities and going back to their respective countries. Stories are told of players who have been subjected to serious humiliation like funs of the opponent clubs stocking the players after a much and shaking their cars, spitting on the cars, throwing food at the player and punching their cars all because this player is of a different race. Funs who sit near the field have also been suspended and fined for unfriendly gestures like monkey chants, using annoying names to intimidate the player and even punching the player who he goes to throw the ball or when he tries to defend himself by responding to their insults. However, some people believe that these are actions of just a handful of people who are out to spoil it all for other people. Increasing immigration which has led to more players of color in Europe has incited some of the racial tension across Europe.

This can be illustrated by the riots which were experienced in the Paris suburbs which revealed the high level of immigrants’ frustration due to lack of economic opportunity, especially for young people. This trend has lead to increasing fears and concerns in Europe concerning the soaring immigration. Most experts and players blame the European countries for tolerating racial prejudice, a fact that is so disappointing when comparing with the situation in nations like the U.S where racial discrimination is considered a vice and a taboo. According to Stuart Sim (2008), the globalization of soccer has led to increased diversity on the field, which has led to dissent from some fans in Europe. It is obvious that many of the world’s top pro teams are in Europe and are led by players of color. For instance, defending World Cup champion Brazil’s Ronaldinho, the 2004 and 2005 world player of the year, plays for newly crowned European club champion FC Barcelona in Spain, as does Sweden’s Henrik Larsson. France’s Thierry Henry and the Ivory Coast’s Kolo Toure led English club Arsenal to the European club final.

Ghana’s Michael Essien and the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba helped Chelsea win the English Premier League title. A country like German tried to resist this trend for a very long time but gave in by the signing of Ghanaian soccer player Gerald Asamoah which led to successive signing of other black players. This trend can not change any sooner because these football clubs have the money while the minority players have the needed talents to push the clubs to stardom. These successful players however are not spared from racial discrimination as the fans sometimes whistle, booed and make monkey noises at them. For example in a European Champions League qualifier against Red Star Belgrade in Serbia and Montenegro in 2004, Beasley who is a black player was welcomed rudely. When he touched the ball, the media reported that the fans whistled, booed and made monkey noises at him. He encountered the same experiences at road games in the Netherlands. Most of the black players who have ever played for European soccer clubs testify that racial discrimination in most European countries is direct and bluntly displayed. For instance a black soccer player can be denied access to a restaurant a restaurant in pretext that he is not welcome into the private party while the main message is to tell the player that he is in a territory of a different race.

The trend of racial discrimination tends to increase in the present days as demonstrated by various incidences experienced by black players. The world’s top player from Cameroon Samuel Eto’o, who plays for FC Barcelona, threatened to walk out of a game after being showered with monkey chants and peanuts from opposing fans. Another incident happened when Marc Zoro, who is from the Ivory Coast and plays for the Italian club Messina, picked up the ball and threatened to walk off the field because of racist chants from Inter Milan fans. Some players have also been involved in promotion of racial prejudice especially against foreign players in their native clubs. Paulo Di Canio, a striker for the Italian club Lazio, was suspended for giving fans a straight-arm, Nazi-style salute. When asked about his behavior, he claimed he was supporting fascism, not racism. (Stuart Sim, 2008).

In a move to fight racial prejudice, major steps have been taken by both political and religious leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI. An anti-racism message from the pope was read to fans before an exhibition game between Italy and Germany aimed at creating awareness on the consequences of racial prejudice. Educational programs and activist groups such as FARE are prominent in Europe. There also have been anti-racism advertising efforts such as the Nike-affiliated “Stand up, Speak up” campaign led by France’s Henry, who was the target of a racist slur by Spanish coach Luis Aragones. Aragones who was fined $87,000 (U.S.) and a public apology which sent a message of how serious an individual’s actions can cost him if they promote racial prejudice. (Stuart Sim, 2008). Nike has also been involved in making and selling black-and-white interlocking rubber wristbands throughout Europe with proceeds meant for fighting racism through anti-racism groups.

The antiracism campaigns have been reinforced by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body by passing an anti-racism legislation that provides for sanctioning Players, coaches and team officials during football matches for engaging in actions that are likely to promote racial prejudice. This legislation however still leaves the funs unregulated. Unfortunately it is this group that is involved in many incidences of racial discrimination. Due to the large number of fans during football matches, enforcing this legislation is very difficult as the officials are not able to monitor what is happening in the stands. Establishing the team whose funs are involved in racially discriminating activities is not easy to allowing for apportioning of blame. FIFA also suggested that players lining up before each game during world cup were to hold banners condemning racism, and, beginning with the quarterfinals, team captains were to read anti-racism messages before games. A special time was also set aside on the World Cup calendar giving room for two anti-discrimination days during the event.

These antiracism campaigns were summed up in the World Cup’s slogan: “A Time to Make Friends.” Various racists groups like neo-Nazis and other racist groups still exists in Germany and these groups have continued to launch attack on black people and even blamed for attacks on black players and their funs whom they refer to as dark-skinned people . Persistent racism in Germany made the authorities to warn black visitors attending world cup to keep off villagers outside Berlin. Taunts by racists are aimed at getting opposing players angry and affecting their play and soccer players who have had a long experience which such racial prejudices advise that black players should learn to ignore such gestures to maintain a good shape during a match. Racial prejudices are part and parcel of such communities and a player responding to them risks even serious actions of racists like physical assault or worse death. Instead of struggling with the humiliations of racists’ insults and abuses, some players take this as a sign of provide and continue to stage outstanding performance to counter the humiliation. Talking about racism is a thorny issue even among the African-American teammates except for personal friends. (Stuart Sim, 2008).


Soccer is a very popular football game that is perceived to unite people of all races and loved worldwide. It is however unfortunate that these players who stage outstanding performances are struggling with humiliation due to racial prejudices from certain corners of the world especially in European countries. Despite the severity of the problem, world football body and some government authorities have not stepped up enough measures to combat racial prejudice. Hooliganism at soccer matches provide an atmosphere within which racism thrives. Fighting at football matches is usually associated with racial insults like “you dirty nigger” or “stupid African” which is easily ignored as part of the hooliganism. Racial discrimination in football can range from physical and verbal insults like monkey chants, using gestures meant for racial incitement, restricted access to social facilities as well as entering football stadiums with racists banners. Europe is still prone to racial prejudice in the field of sports especially in Germany which is blamed for tolerating racial prejudice. This is evidenced by incidences like when a racist fan entered a stadium with a banner promoting racial discrimination in the presence of police men who failed to confisticate it or arrest him. There were also were also public racist campaigns by right-wing extremists against national players Gerald Asamoah and Patrick Owomoyela because they were black. Those arrested and charged with racial discrimination are subjected to very low fines hence promoting this vice. To stamp out the vice, governments and relevant football stakeholders need to come up with stiffer penalties for those promoting racial hatred. The antiracism campaigns should be incorporated in education policies and public awareness to appeal to even the younger generation. The media need not to heed to intimidation by sports officials threatening to exclude them from covering their matches and promote campaigns against racism.

Work Cited

  • Stuart Sim (2008). The Eighteenth-century Novel and Contemporary Social Issues.
  • Edinburgh University: Edinburgh University Press.
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