Leadership (Abuja)

10 November 2012

Nigeria: FIFA and Racism in Football

Photo: CAF
Yaya Toure of Cote d'Ivoire accepting the African Player of the Year 2012 in Ghana.

The beautiful round leather game no doubt, is fast losing its traditional supporters. No thanks to the inability of both national and international footballing bodies to tackle the problem of racism. The issues that people are most vocal about are diving and the obscenity of the money involved.

Sadly, only few are reacting angrily or demanding action against racism abuse of black players in football. The answers to all of these problems lie firmly within the grasp of the FAs, continental bodies and ultimately, world soccer ruling body, FIFA.

They all have the powers to tackle the problem, but lack the courage and conviction to deal with it. FIFA president, Sepp Blatter recently declared that there is no problem with racism in football. He suggested that those targeted with racism should go ahead to shake hands with their abusers.

Blatter was asked in an ¬interview by CNN whether he felt players were still guilty of making racist comments during matches in light of the recent allegations made in the Premier League. Incredibly, he dismissed the complaints and even urged the players who were called racist names to forget about it and remember it's just a game. "I would deny it. There is no racism," Blatter said.

"Maybe one of the players has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but the one who is affected by that, he should say that 'this is a game'. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination."

Terry is currently serving a four-match ban over a year after his altercation with QPR's Anton Ferdinand, while Suarez started an eight-match suspension in January, three months after his incident with Patrice Evra.

The fallout of both cases prompted a number of figures within the game to claim not enough was being done by the Football Association (FA) and the world soccer ruling body (FIFA) to tackle racism in football. Also, Super Eagles and Chelsea of England midfielder, John Mikel Obi has been in the eye of storm over his repeated racial abuse in England.

The Nigerian international had to delete his Twitter account after he suffered a barrage of insults from Chelsea fans, following his team's 2-2 draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League. A sloppy pass by Nigerian in his own half, led to the Italian side's equaliser, with just ten minutes to the end of the game, and Mikel was singled out by Chelsea fans as the culprit in the draw against Juventus.

Mikel reportedly left the social network tool, after receiving some vulgar messages which were racially abusive on him. Chelsea first denied the racist abuse on their player, until the Nigerian was left with no option than to report the case to the police before Chelsea came up with a statement condemning the racial abuse, saying that they have been notified of the developments.

"We've been made aware of racist tweets targeted at Mikel which are totally unacceptable, disgusting and abhorrent," the statement on the club's website read. "We've informed the police and support taking the strongest possible action."

It is indeed sad to hear that a player, who gives his all for a club could be subjected to abuses by his own fans. While the dust of racist attack on Mikel by his fans was yet to settle, the player allegedly suffered another racial abuse. But this time, from match official. The Nigerian alleged that Referee Mark Clattenburg made 'inappropriate language' against him during his club during Chelsea's controversial and explosive 3-2 loss to Manchester United at Stamford Bridge and demanded for an apology. The matter is being investigated by the London Police.

Racial comments against African players in Europe have been a case too many. Emmanuel Adebayor, Samuel Eto'o, Seidu Kaita, Joseph Yobo, Osaze Odemwigie to mention but a few, have all had an unfair share of racial abuses in Europe.

FIFA has been criticised in the past for failing to punish football federations harshly enough when supporters have racially abused opposition players. The soccer ruling body is only concern about diving in football by players and planning every strategy to stamp it out while it is indisposed to deal adequately with the insidious blight that is racism?

Racism won't kill the game of football, but it could cause a permanent schism. Therefore, the earlier the aforementioned footballing authorities who claim to have zero tolerance against racism and racial abuse stand to fight it squarely, the better it will be for the beautiful game of football.

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