Faced with racism, the growing mobilization of football players



It is a world first. The players of two teams who decide as one man to leave the field, in reaction to remarks deemed racist made by one of the members of the refereeing body, and a match finally stopped and postponed. The event took place at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday 8 December, after less than a quarter of an hour of play between PSG and Turks from Istanbul Basaksehir, the last group stage meeting of the Champions League. .

On the lawn, the match is tense and the faults multiply. The Turkish bank reacted quite strongly. The fourth referee is annoyed, and points to the team’s assistant coach, Pierre Achille Webo. He designates him to the central referee using the term “negru”, which means “black” in Romanian, the nationality of the two men on the whistle. What makes Pierre Achille Webo, ex-Cameroonian international, come out of his hinges: “Why did you say nigga?” “, he repeats several times.

→ MAINTENANCE. Roxana Maracineanu: “I want to change the place of sport in society”

The exchange resonates in the empty stadium because of the camera. The other players approach. Confusion sets in. Some Parisian players, like Kylian Mbappé or Neymar evoke the possibility of leaving the lawn. Soon comes Demba Ba, substitute striker of Basaksehir.

The 35-year-old player, a native of the Paris region, has in the past distinguished himself several times for his stance against the racism of which he was a victim during his career, in Italy and then in China. He apostrophe the fourth referee: “When you say a white man, you say ‘that man’, not ‘that white man’. Why are you doing it with a black man ” ? His arguments relate to the players. Who decide, Turks as Parisians, to leave the field. They will not return, and the game, later in the evening, is postponed until the next day.

A very strong message

The act is unprecedented, its visibility in the flagship competition of the most popular sport on the planet is immense, and its reach is measured by the very many almost instant reactions all over the world. In France, the Minister Delegate in charge of sports, Roxana Maracineanu, welcomes “The strong symbolism of their gesture and their solidarity”. Marlène Schiappa, Minister in charge of Solidarity welcomes this “Very strong message”.

In any case, it reflects the exasperation of athletes who have long been confronted with this painful problem, but who take a stand on the subject only occasionally, and individually. The change was however noticeable since last spring, when more and more sportsmen dared to speak in France in the wake of the commitments of the American champions revolted by the repeated violence of the police against the black community and the death of Georges Floyd.

The first solidarity reaction to the institution

“These reactions were confirmed with the very rapid speeches of certain athletes, such as Kylian Mbappé or Antoine Griezmann, after the beating of music producer Michel Zecler two weeks ago, notes the historian Claude Boli.

This is indeed an important development, highlighted even more by the events of the Parc des Princes. Because for the first time, the players reacted in unison to the institution that guarantees European football, UEFA, the connoted statement coming from one of its referees. The problem does not fall this time from the forums, which shows, moreover, that it is much deeper than what the governing body said, whose campaigns against racism so far have hardly been carried out. “

→ READ. Racism, the word of champions is slowly released

For months now, many voices have been evoking this strong act of stopping the match, demanded by the players themselves, as a necessary prerequisite for an effective fight against racism. In February 2020, FC Porto’s Franco-Malian, Moussa Marega, left the field a quarter of an hour from the end in the face of insults from opposing supporters.

But the Malian international born in Ullis (Essonne) had been replaced and the match had resumed. “His teammates should have protected him, just like the opposing team, by saying ‘we’re leaving the field’. This is what disappoints me the most ”, then underlined the former Dutch international Ruud Gullit.

→ READ. Racism and homophobia in football, a fight against trivialization

Can this Tuesday, December 8 therefore make a date, and mark the beginning of another story? “I’m naturally optimistic, but I’m not sure this match will make a precedent, judge Claude Boli. If the public had been present, and the referee’s words less obvious and audible to everyone, things would no doubt have been much more confused and would not have provoked the same unanimity among the players. “

This is one of the major questions on the sequence of events. What will happen when the supporters return to the stands once the pandemic is over? Will the players impose zero tolerance?

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