“Racism must be taken seriously because it endangers the foundations of football”

PSG players Neymar (left) and Kylian Mbappé kneel down to denounce racism during the resumption of the match against Turkish club Basaksehir on December 9, 2020, at Parc des Princes, in Paris.

Tribune. Thus, a European referee can designate an African coach who protests by saying: “You Black! “ And another come and give him a red card without even trying to understand the why and how. Unbearable double penalty.

Tuesday, December 8, on the lawn of the Parc des Princes, Pierre Webo, former striker of the Cameroon team and now assistant coach of the Turkish club Basaksehir, did not support that the fourth referee of the match, the Romanian Sebastian Coltescu, uses the term “Negru” (“Black”, in Romanian) to designate it. The incident set an unprecedented precedent, leading all Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG) and Basaksehir players and staff to stop a Champions League match and not return to the pitch.

Read our story: “Come, we go out”: the players of PSG-Basaksehir leave the field, denouncing the racist remarks of a referee

Once again, some dissert and produce explanations which lead to relativizations whose background noise is still and always the same: “Is it that bad? “ “Aren’t we doing a little too much? “ For me, the answer is clearly no. Because this episode occurs after a series of ignominy on many European pitches, which have lasted too long: throwing bananas, cries of monkeys and insults from the stands. This time around, the affront came from an actor supposed to guarantee and respect the laws of the game.

Yes, that night at the Park, a referee said “Black” to distance a coach by designating him by his color alone, as if he could not be anything else. Yes, that evening at the Park, another player from Istanbul, Demba Ba, intervened by throwing at the fourth referee at fault: “When you talk about a white man, you never say “this white type, you just say “This guy”, so why when you mention a black man do you say this black guy ? ” Demba Ba was right to be indignant. Because to designate a man by a color is to deny him the right to an identity.

A historic moment

Precisely, it is the main actors who blocked an insidious mechanism which, as usual, could start again as if nothing had happened. But the players said “no” as one man. It is hard to imagine the referee putting 22 red cards … Returning to the locker room, these players refused to continue the match and thus endorse the words of the fourth referee. They were animated by a spirit of rebellion initiated and encouraged by Rosa Parks when she decided, in segregationist America sixty-five years ago, not to give way to a white traveler on a bus.

In my football career, I have of course encountered racism, like almost all African players or players of African origin playing in France. But during my years as a player spent largely at the Racing Club de Lens (1991-1997), I mostly met people determined to reject racism.

Read also PSG-Basaksehir: Pierre Achille Webo and Demba Ba, footballers who said “no to racism”

This match, shortened by decision of 22 united players, will be a milestone: this December 8, we experienced a historic moment and a turning point in the history of football. The players that evening took their responsibilities; it is important that the governing bodies take theirs. Because this mobilization echoes the action of basketball players in the NBA. But with one major difference: American athletes are supported by their federation. We are far from it, at home, in the French championship.

In the 1980s in England, hooliganism threatened the organization of football matches. The English federation and the public authorities were able to react and, through a coercive policy, ended up circumscribing this dangerous phenomenon. Likewise, racism, a structural problem, must be taken seriously, considering that, like hooliganism, it endangers the foundations of football.

Toxic conservatism

What applies to racism is anchored in the basis of all other forms of discrimination, and in particular those relating to gender equality. We must recognize and put an end to this toxic conservatism that can easily be seen and found at the head of the governing bodies of the round ball. How many clubs, leagues or federations are led by women or people from the diversity that makes up this country? Football and its bodies must make room for real diversity and not for “Sprinkling”, as Pape Diouf said. The very survival of our sport is at stake.

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If the supervisory bodies continue their policy of ostrich, it will be up to the players’ unions to organize the defense of their members who are victims of racist attacks. Their impact is such that they will move the lines of absurd rules, such as penalizing a player who leaves the field or responds to provocations. Strong actions such as the recent involvement of Antoine Griezmann, who has just broken his contract with Huawei, accused of participating in the surveillance of the Uighurs, or the condemnation of the aggression of Michel Zecler by Kylian Mbappé and his remarks against abuses of some policemen – and not against the police – prove that the new generation is ripe to make the necessary changes in football. And it is happy.

Jimmy Adjovi-Boco is a former Beninese footballer, who notably played as a defender at RC Lens. Technical advisor to the Beninese minister of sports, he was a member of the Presidential Council for Africa set up by Emmanuel Macron.


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