Frequently our world leaders tell us we live in a multicultural world, a world of tolerance, yet almost every week the actions of some contradict the statements of our world leaders.
Too often in modern society these same leaders pander to the minority groups because it may gain them votes that see them maintain power.
Racism is an issue that is explosive in political terms. It is a topic which any politician will know is bound to alienate some when he raises it, and that is why it is brushed under the carpet; these are votes that could be vital.
When it comes to racism in sport, once again the powers that be are loath to discuss such issues, knowing how divisive the subject can be; some may say that also because most of those running sport are in fact white.
In the last 24 hours Ghana’s Sulley Muntari, playing for Pescara in Italy’s Serie A walked off the pitch in protest when a referee booked him after he claimed he was being racially abused during a match. The former Ghana midfielder claims he asked the referee Daniele Minelli to stop Sunday’s game at Cagliari due to the constant racial abuse aimed at him.
Instead the referee booked him for dissent, – he obviously stated his views too strongly – and in the 89th minute the former Portsmouth and Sunderland player left the pitch in protest.
After the game Muntari claimed that “The referee should not just stay on the field and blow the whistle, he must do everything. He should be aware of these things and set an example. I asked him if he had heard the insults. I insisted that he must have the courage to stop the game.”
The referee said he had heard and seen nothing.
Having interviewed many athletes of different races, colours and religions, some who have been the victims of racial abuse, nearly all said that they could count on one hand the times they were abused on the pitch by fellow players, but the times they were abused by members of the crowd was far greater. The anonymity of being a face in a crowd somehow gives people the courage to yell such comments. Sadly there is also a ‘safety in numbers’ attitude, as many of the fans who shout abuse know that not all of them will be arrested, and that the club will never ban all of those singing racist chants.
Many of those players spoken to have said that you simply have to shut out the chants. That as a player, you must get into a zone where your sole focus is the game, and the crowd becomes white-noise. Yet this must be hard when thousands are chanting as one.
The referee’s defence that he did not hear the chants is in fact a fair one. As after all referees suffer abuse almost every week without fail. They will make decisions on the pitch that are bound to be unpopular with one set of fans, and as a result their parentage, and much more will be questioned by fans baying for blood. So just as gymnasts have to learn to shut out the noise of the crowd as they perform intricate and dangerous routines, that then allows them to focus solely on their performance, referees have to learn to do the same.
Throw into the equation that referees are now linked to their assistants by microphones and headsets and it is even more unlikely that the referee would have heard exactly what was being chanted.
Muntari should not have had to suffer such abuse of that there can be no doubt, he should not have been booked for protesting, and that may well be overturned in the future, but rather than the booking being questioned it is his walking off the pitch that seems to have made the most headlines.
Sure, the laws of the game state that a player cannot leave the field of play, and Muntari would know that. The laws state:
12.28.7 DELIBERATELY LEAVES THE FIELD OF PLAY WITHOUT PERMISSION
Players who leave the field without the referee’s permission most often do so for unsporting reasons – for example, to create an unfair offside situation (see Advice 11.10). They may also leave the field to indicate dissent or to “manage” the referee’s next decision.If a player does leave the field for some other reason without the referee’s permission to do so, and this results in gaining a tactical advantage for his or her team, the player has committed misconduct and must be cautioned and shown the yellow card.
Where it is apparent to the referee that the player leaving the field without permission has not done so to express dissent or to gain an unfair advantage (e. g., exited to change shoes or replace a torn jersey) and has merely forgotten to obtain permission (or thought he or she had obtained it), the referee should consider this a trifling breach of the Laws. A word/warning to the player should be sufficient in such circumstances, even if that player then re-enters the field without obtaining the referee’s permission.
Of course some cynics are saying that Muntari wanted the game cancelled because his team were losing, but Pescara are bottom of Serie A and have already been relegated to Italy’s second tier, so such an argument carries little weight.
Having just had what must have been a fairly heated conversation with the player, the referee must have known that the player was both agitated and upset by the abuse that he felt was targeted at him. Having been abused and then had the referee not listen to his complaint, try to imagine how Muntari must have felt. What other option was left to him? Why would he want to stay on the pitch?
Muntari is 32 years of age and has been playing the game at the highest level for the past 15 years, and as far as we know he has never asked for a game to be stopped before. Does this not give an indication as to how the constant abuse had become?
Try to imagine turning up to work and being personally abused about your appearance for an hour an a half. How would you react?
His request to have the game stopped may well have been unfair, as should the referee be expected to stop a game due to the chants from the crowd? He only has to ensure the safety of the players at all times. Should not the officials inside the ground have been alerted and tried to halt such chanting? Should they not have ultimately made a call on what appropriate course of action needed to be taken? Should not Pescara’s coach Zdenek Zeman, who must have heard the chants not have asked that the home club try and stop it? If he did, sadly they must have thought that there was no need to do anything, as only one player was being targeted.
It is sad that Muntari reached breaking point, and few will have any idea of how he felt. It is terrible that fans can cause a man to reach that point. There are of course others who have suffered constant abuse to a point where they simply cannot take it any more. Ghanaian born German International Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the pitch because of racist chanting during a friendly when playing for AC Milan against lower league side Pro Patria in January 2013; Muntari was a team mate at AC Milan at that time.
Boateng’s actions prompted a wave of support on social media. FIFA praised Boateng’s principles, but no doubt fearing copycat protests, was quick condone his decision to walk off. It will be interesting to see how the Italian authorities and FIFA react to Muntari’s protest.
There is no doubt that programs like “Kick Racism Out” have helped to reduce the number of racist incidents but only a fool would say that racism does not still exist in sport, and sadly in most cases it involves white fans abusing black-skinned players.
Most fans detest such behaviour, and in the end it is the majority that need to stand together and not allow this minority to be heard. After all some of the games greatest players have not been white-skinned, Pele, George Weah, Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho to name a handful.Would we want to miss out on seeing them perform?