Lilian Thuram: “This collective revolt of footballers fills me with hope”

Tuesday, December 8 in the evening, in the 13th minute of the Champions League match between PSG and Istanbul Basaksehir, the Turkish staff and the players, followed by those of PSG, made the decision to leave the pitch after the exclusion of Pierre Achille Webo. One way to denounce the racist remarks of the fourth referee against the Istanbul assistant coach. The world champion Lilian Thuram, who fights racism on a daily basis, reacts to this first during an international competition so publicized.

The Obs. The revolt of the players, this Tuesday, December 8, during the match where Paris-Saint-Germain and Basaksehir faced each other, is it for you, who lead the anti-racist fight, the historical sequence that you were waiting for?

Lilian Thuram. Yes, this is the historic moment that I was waiting for! And it filled me with hope. We must really congratulate all these players, Demba Ba, Neymar, Mbappé, all those who were there, for reacting as they did. Perhaps they do not fully realize it yet, but this is the first time that teams have come together to denounce racism, this moment will be forever recorded in history. Lilian Thuram: ” We are not born white, we become so ”

I had been telling myself for a long time that it would have to happen like this and that the players make the decision to stop the match, since the institutions could not take a clear and strong position on these subjects. Yesterday, we saw that the one who represented the institution, namely the referee, was responsible for this racist attack and did everything to get the match to resume.

When I was a child there was racism in football, when I played football there was racism, my children now play football and there is racism. We can therefore see that the institutions have never found the right answers. How many times, when we heard monkey noises, the referee let the match continue, pretended not to have heard?

But generally it is not the institutions which find the right answers, it is the civil societies which force the institutions to change. Yesterday evening, that’s what happened: here are players who decided to stop the match.

What symbolic meaning do you see there?

What is very interesting in what we saw last night is the dynamic: the Romanian referee throws “The black over there, the black”, the assistant coach who was cursed by the referee calls him to account, and suddenly another player, Demba Ba, intervenes and asks for an explanation. The Turkish players then approach the referee, players from Paris-Saint-Germain arrive, Demba Ba explains to the players what is happening and suddenly, it is obvious to the footballers: it is not tolerable. Kylian Mbappé said it very well: “We do not resume as long as the fourth referee is still on the field. If he said that, he has to get out. We do not tolerate a referee like that. “ At that moment, a solidarity was established. The Turkish and French coaches did not encourage the players to resume the game. What is important to underline is the strength of solidarity: without solidarity, nothing will be achieved. This is what is very often lacking around victims of racism or when it is denounced. But at that moment, everyone came together to say “it won’t be like that”.

Do you think there will be a before and after this exit sequence?

I hope so. In any case, players now know that other players have done it. It means they can do it again. And the institution also knows that the players are able to do it, so indeed, normally, there will be a before and an after.

PSG-Basaksehir: the incredible revolution of “footballers”

To what extent is the world of football plagued by racism?

It goes beyond the framework of football. The world of football is a reflection of society. What I am trying to do in my book “White Thought” is to show how much we are heirs to a racial history and that we must stop with this naivety of believing that racism would have disappeared: like sexism, it is cultural, that means that it is registered in all areas of our culture. We have to have the courage to say it and to confront it to question our culture and to show where are its racist biases which persist.

But once again, faced with all the inequalities that exist in a society, it is opinions that can denounce and force institutions to move. It’s the same with the police. After the assault on Michel Zecler [ce producteur roué de coups par trois fonctionnaires de police dans l’entrée d’un studio de musique du 17e arrondissement de la capitale, NDLR], the State could not say that even if the police violence concerned only a small percentage of civil servants, it was already too much.

What is happening there on the football field should help us realize that we must create solidarity to demand more equality from the institutions. This is why we must encourage young players to realize that it is their duty to make a difference.

What do you expect from football bodies now?

That they draw conclusions from all that, that they realize that it really exists and that a real education in racism be undertaken in all the formations related to the world of football, for the referees, the coaches, the leaders… Because the slogans will not suffice. It’s the same with the police, it’s all about training.

Demba Ba is the one who sounded the revolt of the players last night by reacting the first, what do you want to say?

His reaction was exemplary. We always ask the players to be exemplary and there, he gave a fantastic example of what to do, of the posture that we must know how to hold. You always need one to say “no” and everything flows together, Demba Ba was that one. I thank him to such an extent that one cannot imagine, because he made a huge gift to all the children and adults in the world who were waiting for such a moment. And for so long. His gesture has an extraordinary historical significance. Yeah, we all have to thank him for that. His gesture must inspire people: when you are in front of an institution, you must not let things go, you must denounce, speak out. In front of an injustice, we must stop being afraid and being silent, because speaking, denouncing, is the only way to grow together.

Football players seem to be much more engaged today. For example, we saw Mbappé and Neymar recently take a stand on police violence. How do you explain this new voice of footballers?

In the age of the internet, I believe that it is easier for everyone to give their opinion. And then, the culture of athletes participates in changes in society, and therefore these young players, brought up in the culture of networks, more readily express their positions. Young people are for example the first, in the United States, to have reacted to the death of George Floyd, in the world of football. This new generation is no longer afraid to denounce racism. Each generation must stand up in the face of injustices. Because when you get up and say no, you’re actually breathing. This time, we’re not going to let it go. Let’s say it again: you don’t have to accept, you can say no.

Lilian Thuram, organic express

International French footballer, 1998 world champion, Lilian thuram created in 2008 the Lilian Thuram Foundation Education against Racism. After “My black stars” (2009) and “Manifesto for equality” (2012), he has just published “La Pensée blanche” with Philippe Rey editions.

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