To walk or not to walk?

January 10, 2013 § 5 Comments

Should footballers who are faced with racism from opposition players and fans in the crowd walk off the pitch?

That is the question the football world is faced with after Thursday’s abandoned friendly between AC Milan and Pro Patria. AC Milan player Kevin Prince Boateng, a Ghana international, left the field in the 26th minute after being subjected to racist chants from the crowd.

Boateng picked up the ball and threw it in the section of the crowd from where the chants came before taking off his shirt and walking off the pitch, followed by the rest of his team and match officials.

In an interview with CNN, Boateng said he wouldn’t hesitate to repeat his actions if faced with racial abuse in other matches: “I don’t care what game it is – a friendly, Italian league or Champions League match – I would walk off again.” Boateng’s actions have received huge support from fellow players, managers and anti-racism campaigners.

Plenty of Support

Former Italian Prime Minister and Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi has expressed his approval of his team’s action: “I am very happy with Milan’s reaction and be assured that in all games where we experience episodes of this kind, Milan will leave the field.”

Praise has also been given by Piara Powar, executive director of European anti-discrimination group Fare: “We salute Kevin-Prince Boateng for his actions and his team-mates for their support. This is the not the first time a player has walked off in Italy – if the situation continues it may not be the last.”

Warning Caution

However, not everyone feels that walking off the pitch is the right way to take a stand against racism. Fifa president Sepp Blatter stated that players should not leave the pitch if faced with racism, saying, “Walk off? That’s not the solution.” Blatter insists the only way to solve football’s problem with racism is to be “very harsh with the sanctions – and the sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar.”

Former AC Milan player Clarence Seedorf has said that racism won’t be eliminated from football by players walking off the pitch: “I don’t see it as such a positive thing because [it] empowers more and more of this behaviour.” Instead, he believes in identifying those who are expressing racist views and removing them from the stadium.

However, whether players agree with Boateng’s decision or not, the fact remains that currently players are warned off taking drastic action over racial abuse by the threat of red cards and suspension.

The UEFA suspended two black English players during England’s Under 21 match against Serbia last year for reacting angrily to the crowd after suffering abuse from the crowd and assaults from Serbian players. Instead of taking matters in their hands players are encouraged to leave the issue to the referees.

What’s the solution?

So if fines and suspensions are consistently failing to produce any change in football’s problem with racism and players are punished for walking off the pitch, what is the solution?

Aditya Bajaj from Indian football news site, Goal, suggests that teams whose fans are guilty of racism should be suspended from the competition, or at the very least docked points.

Not only will this have an immediate impact on clubs themselves, but also on their fans – the people who by buying tickets and attending matches make football a lucrative sport. It will also help make fans responsible for eliminating racism from the beautiful game.

It may be an extreme suggestion, but with nothing else working, perhaps it’s worth considering.

Originally written and published for Mouth London.

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