Kevin-Prince Boateng made an impassioned plea to end racism in sports during a United Nations event to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The AC Milan attacker, who led his teammates off the pitch after being racially abused by fans in a January friendly against Pro Patria, told his Geneva audience that everyone had “a duty to face racism” and that it was “just as important to stand up to racism today as it was in the past" (via the Daily Mail).
Boateng, who represents Ghana internationally, was invited to the Palais des Nations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay.
Accompanied by girlfriend Melissa Satta, the 26-year-old former Tottenham and Portsmouth midfielder spoke at length about his firsthand experience with racism, saying there had been times in his life where he wished he could avoid the issue.
I tried to ignore it as if it was a headache that would sooner or later go away—I just had to wait. That, however, is an illusion. It won’t go away by itself. We have a duty to face racism and to fight it. The concept ‘a bit racist’ doesn’t exist. There are no tolerable quantities of racism. It’s unacceptable regardless of where it happens or the form that it takes...Stadia can be places where people of different colour come to support their teams, or they can be seen as stagnant areas where healthy people will be infected by racism. We can’t allow this to happen before our very eyes.
It was on Jan. 3 that the headache became too much for him.
In the 26th minute of Milan’s friendly match against Pro Patria in Busto Arsizio, he kicked the ball into the stands, informed the referee that he had been the target of racial abuse and walked off the field, followed by his teammates. Many in the crowd applauded his act upon realizing what had happened.
On that incident, Boateng said:
I decided to stop the game and kick the ball into the stands as I felt profoundly angry and offended by the racist insults directed at me. That gesture alone would not have had any particular resonance. My teammates, however, immediately followed me off the pitch without a moment’s hesitation.
And now the UN is following his lead.
In her address, High Commissioner Pillay stated that as sport was “inclusive and multicultural,” the time to “kick racism out of football” had arrived (via FIFA.com).
“There must be accountability for racist offenses in sports,” she said.
Boateng has previously criticized FIFA, world football’s governing body, for what he views as inaction regarding racism.
“So many people in FIFA can do something, and they should wake up and do it,” he said two days after the Pro Patria incident (via SkySports.com). “They should not tolerate it. They should ban people forever from the stadiums. That’s the first thing you can do.”
Boateng will be meeting with FIFA president Sepp Blatter to discuss the issue on Friday. Head of Corporate and Social Responsibility Federico Addiechi represented the organization in Geneva on Thursday.
“Despite the many victories we have won in football against discrimination and prejudice, we know we still have a problem today and we know more has to change,” Addiechi said in a statement (via GlobalPost.com). “We have to step up our efforts—to keep fighting.”
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is marked each year on March 21. It was on that day in 1960 that 69 people were killed by police during a peaceful gathering in Sharpeville, South Africa.
Many racist incidents are much larger in scope, and make headlines for days, weeks and even months at a time.
The following are just a few incidents of note:
- February 2013: Italian side Lazio are ordered to play their next two matches behind closed doors after UEFA—the body that governs European football—finds an element of their support guilty of racism for a fourth time during the current Europa League campaign. Lazio president Claudio Lotito calls the punishment “absurd.”
- October 2011: Chelsea captain John Terry racially abuses Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand, resulting in a racially-aggravated public order offence that was tried in court the following July. Terry was acquitted, but in a separate hearing held by the Football Association he was found guilty, fined and suspended.
- October 2011: Liverpool forward Luis Suarez hurls racist insults at Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra, resulting in a fine and eight-match ban.
- February 2005: Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o is racially heckled by Real Zaragoza supporters, some of which make monkey noises when the Cameroon international touches the ball; others of whom throw peanuts. Eto’o threatens to abandon the match but is persuaded by his teammates to remain on the pitch.
- January, 2005: Although French side Paris Saint-Germain had worn all-white jerseys and rivals Lens had donned all-black in an anti-racism gesture, a section of PSG supporters mocked the Lens players and made monkey noises when they touched the ball.