On the evening of Tuesday, December 8, football rose up against racism. The two teams of PSG and Basaksehir Istanbul had been playing their Champions League match for less than a quarter of an hour when the meeting was interrupted on the background of accusations of racism brought by the Turks against the fourth referee. The latter is accused of having used the term “ nigga », Very steeped in racism in French and English, to designate a coach.
The teams try an explanation with the referee. Senegalese Basaksehir, Demba Ba, substitute, protests to the fourth referee.
“You never say “this white”, you say “that one”, so when you talk about a black man, why do you say “this black” ? “
After ten minutes of explanations, the players of Basaksehir Istanbul and PSG, decide by mutual agreement to leave the field. The match is suspended.
For “l’Obs”, Mickaël Correia, journalist and author of the book “ A popular football history »Looks back on the historic decision to leave the field on the part of the players and on official football authorities plagued by racism.
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Is this the first time that football players have left the field following a racist insult?
This is the first time that all players have left the field at the same time because of a racist insult. On the other hand, it is not unprecedented that racist insults crop up in the middle of the game. We can, for example, think of the racist banners which floated in football stadiums in the 1980s. The problem is still topical. One of the most emblematic cases is that of player Mario Balotelli, Italian footballer at AC Monza, who was the victim of racist cries during the Italian championship. Last February, Moussa Marega, who plays for FC Porto, had to endure monkey cries. In September 2020, Neymar, attacker at PSG, would also have heard monkey cries. In each of these cases, it was only the player concerned who left the pitch alone or with other footballers. The case of last night is an unprecedented fact.
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Why has it happened now?
With the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, we are really in a dynamic of politicization. We have seen more and more athletes mobilize. In the world of football, many players have dropped to one knee, in tribute to George Floyd and Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to make this sign of protest against the murders of several blacks by white police officers. The first to reproduce this gesture is player Marcus Thuram, son of Lillian Thuram, who knelt down to celebrate a goal. Similar actions could also be noted on the side of the Liverpool club.
In France, we can mention the presence of Layvin Kurzawa, player of PSG, in one of the rallies organized by the Adama committee. These examples have brought forward the politicization of sportsmen and women in particular football players. Players like Kilian Mbappé have indicated their support for Black Lives Matter and George Flyod.
Finally, footballer Jules Koundé, who plays for Sevilla FC, expressed his indignation at the beating by the police of Michel Zecler. More than support, it was political positioning. He had clearly mentioned the importance of the authorization to film the police, which is very political when we know the current debates on article 24. Following that, other players have spoken.
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Yesterday’s event should be placed in the context mentioned above. We are in a phase of politicization of society. Police violence has become a subject of society in its own right. We have a young generation, mostly from working-class neighborhoods and minorities, with very strong positions on the excesses of the State, the rise of the extreme right and racism. We still have this image of the depoliticized footballer, the millionaire with studs, but it is completely false. Football is a mirror of society and when society becomes politicized, so does football. The gesture of yesterday’s footballers looks a bit like “We get up and we break” by Adéle Haenel, all proportions kept of course, each one keeps its specificities.
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In France, fans tend to blame French players for a form of apathy on issues related to racism. Has it always been so?
There is more and more pressure for footballers to take a stand on social issues. For example, at the same time as the Black Lives Matter, the Loopsider media revealed facts of police violence against a 14-year-old boy, Gabriel, who comes from the town of Bondy. Mbappé is also from Bondy and the inhabitants of the city strongly encouraged him to position himself for Gabriel. He accepted.
Are you seeing a new awakening of the players to these questions?
Footballers are very fed by what is happening in the United States, with the NBA boycotting games to protest against police violence. They are inspired by this type of phenomenon. French players are beginning to be aware that they have a role model to play, in the sense “ role model »English, for young people from lower-income neighborhoods. They are beginning to invest their social vocation. Football authorities are very late on diversity issues. The players come to take over.
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The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) announced the suspension of the match yesterday. How is this symbolic?
UEFA took a long time to react, they issued a completely laconic statement three hours after the fact. When we look at the UEFA committee, we see that it is made up of white men over 50 years old. Football institutions do not want to recognize racism, it is a serious problem. The French Football Federation (FFF) is sclerotic. In 2011, Mediapart revealed that the FFF wanted to set up ethnic quotas. The PSG, which also an institution, had carried out ethnic files. Since 2010, the League of Human Rights, calls on the FFF, because France is one of the rare countries where young migrants under the age of 18 cannot join small football clubs to play.
Will this institution also change?
I am not very optimistic about a possible change of the institution. Just last year, an amateur football club from Ariège was forced to dissolve itself by dint of being subjected to racism from institutions and referees. These cases raise the issue of democracy in football. These are closed institutions, there are many of them. We can note a real paradox between the social reality of the field, the players, and the representation of these players in official bodies. This lack of diversity leads to the non-recognition of problems such as racism and homophobia, which are very prevalent in the world of football.
It is very important to know the roots of football. It is a game that was invented in the XIXe century in the private schools of the British elite. It was a sport practiced mainly by virile, white and rich men. A true bastion of white masculinity and its origins have influenced today’s football which has problems with racism and homophobia.