In an interview with The Associated Press, Altidore said he decided to play through the abuse Tuesday because he didn’t want to give satisfaction to people who directed monkey chants at him.
The 23-year-old said it was the first time he has experienced racism like this, on or off the field.
‘This was pretty big. To have a stadium chanting monkey sounds is not something pleasant,’ he said in the phone interview. ‘I’m the only black player on my team, so I think it was more directed to me than anyone else.’
Jackie Robinson’s birthday was Thursday. Two days before the first black player in Major League Baseball would have turned 94, American soccer player Jozy Altidore was racially abused by Dutch fans of FC Den Bosch, the team against which Altidore’s AZ Alkmaar was playing.
Unrelenting monkey chants. Just weeks after Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off a pitch in Italy in response to fans’ taunts.
UEFA/FIFA, get your house in order.
Rather than make clear from the top that racist abuse will not be tolerated, UEFA is worryingly silent. And when they do talk, like last summer when they fined a Danish player more for wearing unapproved underwear than they did the national teams whose fans abused black players like Theodor Gebre Selassie or Mario Balotelli, their priorities are never quite in line.
The silence and/or uselessness from the top leaves the sole responsibility of responding to racist fan culture to men who are barely adults and are being abused and attacked in their place of business. And when individuals are making decisions on the spot and under enormous pressure, we see a variety of responses that journalists and other commentators are taking it upon themselves to judge. Is Altidore’s playing on better than Boateng’s leaving?
Who are we to judge?
And why are we spending more time thinking about the individual choices these players are making instead of demanding that UEFA/FIFA treat this as an issue of utmost importance? We owe it to Jackie Robinson to demand better.
Kevin-Prince Boateng’s stand (or walk, more precisely) against racist fans. It speaks for itself.
Croatia’s head coach, Slaven Bilic, has delivered the strongest condemnation of racism yet and insisted that sanctions must be imposed in order to stamp out the problem forever. His words come two days before Uefa is due to make a decision on the punishment handed out after a banana was thrown on the pitch and around 200 fans made monkey chants during Croatia’s 1-1 draw with Italy last Thursday.
Asked whether he expects a similar punishment, Bilic did not shirk the issue. Instead, he called for stern action to be taken. ‘[Racism] is a big problem all around Europe and all around the world and on behalf of the entire nation, not even as a football manager, I want to say that I am really disappointed as a Croatian, a parent, and a sportsman, a person who comes from a modern, open-minded and tolerant state,’ he said.
‘Everyone is welcome in our country. I don’t like these kind of supporters and nor do my players. I live in Croatia and we really are a tolerant country. We are not a racist country and we are angry at these few crazy supporters. We have to put sanctions [in place] and stop these kind of supporters forever.’
Rio Ferdinand has criticised Uefa after European football’s governing body banned Nicklas Bendtner for one competitive fixture and fined the striker €100,000 (£80,383) for exposing sponsored underwear in Denmark’s European Championship defeat to Portugal last Wednesday.
Ferdinand, the Manchester United defender, wrote on Twitter: ‘Uefa are you for real??? £80,000 fine for Bendtner for underwear advertising…. all of the racism fines together don’t even add up to that?!
‘Uefa are not serious… Platini was a great player but him & his colleagues alienate themselves with exactly this type of rubbish. If racism made money for Uefa like advertising does do you think Uefa would take it as serious?? #priorities’
Dumb move of the week goes to UEFA, which fined Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner nearly $126,000 Monday and suspended him for one World Cup qualifier for a stunt in which he celebrated a goal by pulling up his shirt to reveal an advertisement on his underwear. I can understand the market-driven reasoning for UEFA’s heavy fine, but it’s completely tone-deaf for UEFA to fine Bendtner so much more than the fines UEFA has given to national associations for incidents involving racism and crowd violence. What kind of message is UEFA sending? That protecting its sponsors is more important than taking a real stand against racism and violence. And that’s embarrassing.
catching up on UEFA’s approach to racism
Although there haven’t been any racism incidents rivaling the kind shown on Panorama’s “Stadiums of Hate,” fairly credible reports of abuse against two black players have surfaced, and UEFA has had to take action. Czech player Theodor Gebre Selassie confirmed that he heard abuse during the Czech Republic’s match with Russia, although he did not file an official complaint. To my knowledge, Mario Balotelli either didn’t hear the taunts or isn’t saying that he did, but UEFA’s investigating abuse from Spanish and Croatian fans towards the Italian striker. The abuse at the Croatia match also potentially involved one banana thrown onto the pitch, but the evidence for that is a picture of a steward with a banana in his hand.
Things to note:
- To this point, Polish and Ukrainian fans have not been accused of any of this. Poland played the Czech Republic on Saturday, and no reports have surfaced. Ukraine played France (one of the teams with a large black contingent) on Friday, and no reports have surfaced.
- Is it simply a coincidence that the two players abused so far have been the only black players on their teams?
UEFA is making all the right noises, opening investigations, etc., etc. But the incredibly severe penalty (€100,000 plus a one-game suspension) assessed to Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner for flashing underwear during his goal celebrations that had an unauthorized sponsor label on the waistband puts UEFA in a bad light. Recent penalties imposed on nations whose fans have abused players with racist taunts pale in comparison to Bendtner’s punishment.
One person who is taking a firm stance is Croatia’s coach, Slaven Bilic, who has categorically condemned the actions of Croatian fans.
I’ll be posting a series of responses to the disconnect between UEFA’s crackdown on sponsor violations and the organization’s more tepid penalties for racism.
One final note: The game with the most potential for racist fan ruckus is tomorrow’s match between England and Ukraine, for a number of reasons. The journalism that broke the story of racism in Poland and Ukraine was produced by the BBC. Like France, the England team also has a large number of black players. The match is happening in Ukraine and against Ukraine, so there’s the possibility that more of the fans who normally attend local club matches might attend this match. Similarly, English fans are streaming into the city: over the past few days, numbers have apparently doubled from a pretty meager 5,000. The match is also very high stakes: it’s the elimination round. Each team can go through if they win. Only England can go through on a draw. So the potential is there. Apparently there are posters plastered around Donetsk announcing Ukrainian hooligans’ intentions to fight. But really, there’s no way to know until we watch the match tomorrow.
Per the Guardian/Associated Press, UEFA is launching an investigation into the reports of racist abuse launched at black players Mario Balotelli of Italy and Theodor Gebre Selassie of the Czech Republic by fans of Spain and Russia, respectively. However, as the article points out, there are challenges in determining what counts as evidence of racism, which will make it difficult for UEFA to take any action. Once again, it looks as though the only significant action would be for players to leave, but I suspect that very few players have enough support from captains and managers to do that. (England captain Steven Gerrard has hinted that his team would walk off. Dutch captain Mark von Bommel moved his team away from racist chanting, but that was practice, not a game.)
more reports of racist chants
There are reports that a few hundred Spanish fans taunted monkey chants at Italian striker Mario Balotelli during yesterday’s match between Spain and Italy. Reputable newspapers have yet to verify this information, and Balotelli hasn’t confirmed that he heard anything. (He hasn’t denied it either. He may be laying low after his disastrous performance yesterday.) Two thoughts, keeping in mind that this might turn out to be a false alarm.
- First, if it did happen, then it lends more credence to my idea that the real story here is UEFA’s ineffective handling of the situation, rather than a story about Poland and Ukraine.
- Second, there seems to be about a day’s lag time between a match and reports of racist abuse. (Also the ESPN feeds don’t pick these incidents up.) I’ll be on the lookout for more confirmation of this alleged abuse against Balotelli as well as any reports that may materialize from yesterday’s matches. The first match featured the largest number of black players on the pitch during any one match. The second match, Sweden and Ukraine, featured Swedish defender Martin Olsson, whose mother is Kenyan. Given that his job involved tackling Ukrainian players charging towards the goal and that the Ukrainian fans were one of the listed groups in the Panorama documentary, he might have been a potential target of racist heckling (which is not the same thing as booing).
The attempt to pretend that the abuse came from fans disappointed that Krakow was not included in the tournament’s match schedule flies in the face of the testimony from the players themselves. They would hardly be looking for an opportunity to alienate fans in the country in which, should they fulfil expectations of qualification from Group B, they will be playing their quarter-final match.
At the very least their complaint should have been given the dignity of proper consideration. If they were indeed mistaken about the nature of the abuse, fair enough. But by reaching an exculpatory judgment on a matter of great sensitivity with what seems like indecent haste, Uefa has made it look as though it is primarily interested in sweeping the matter under the red carpet on which it will parade at the opening ceremony.
Fighting the plague of racism head-on involves taking every allegation seriously. Painful as it is to say this about a body headed by one of the great figures of modern football, only when Michel Platini and Uefa learn that lesson will they themselves deserve to be taken for anything but blazered fools and apparatchiks whose continued reluctance to use their power for the public good makes them accessories to a crime.