‘Why you say negro?’ Racism in football: the PSG v Basaksehir incident, an all-time low for football?

Author: Foluso Adegalu
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

For football lovers, the Union of Eurpean Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League is arguably the biggest football competition. While there are divided opinions as to whether the tournament is bigger than the FIFA World Cup, it is undisputedly the biggest competition at the club level. Following some disruptions to the competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group stage of the 2020-21 season commenced on 20 October 2020. The final round of matches for the group stage were scheduled for 8-9 December. One of the group stage matches scheduled for 8 December was the Group H tie between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) of France and Istanbul Başakşehir F.K. (Başakşehir) of Turkey. The match was scheduled to be played at Parc des Princes, the home ground of the French club.

Barely 13 minutes into the game, Kipempe, a Paris Saint German player was judged to have wrongly tackled a Basaksehir player. There was a bit of reaction by the Basksehir players about the intensity of the tackle and whether Kipempe should be awarded a yellow card by the referee. But the biggest scene of the night was gaining momentum off the pitch. Pierre Wobe, the Assistant Coach of Basaksehir, was engrossed in a heated debate, off the pitch with the fourth official, Sebastian Coltescu. The incident initially seems like the usual football scenarios where coaching staff lose their cool about football decisions and talk themselves into trouble on the sideline, and the on-field official quickly dismissed Wobe with a red card. However, the card was not enough to cover up the root cause of Wobe’s argument with the fourth official. Thanks to the nearly empty stadium in Parc des Princes, the word uttered by Pierre Wobe can clearly be heard on camera. He was vehemently querying the fourth official- “why you say negro? why you say negro?……you can’t say negro…”

Things escalated quickly from this point, the Başakşehir players expressed their grievances about the incident and surrounded the on-field referee. The referee tried to calm things down but the Başakşehir players weren’t having any of that. Demba Ba, a Başakşehir player who was a substitute for the match was very vocal in his exchange with the officials, “when you mention a white guy, you never say a white guy, you say this guy….why when you mention a black guy, you have to say this black guy?” The on-field referee finding himself in a very difficult position tried to have a dialogue with the players, the Başakşehir players in solidarity with their assistant coach told the on-field referee in clear terms “..we have to respect each other…this is not football..” The Başakşehir players refused to continue the game and walked down the tunnel. They were followed suit by the PSG players. An anticipated beautiful night of football was ruined by racism.

Football grounds with as much capacity as over 100,000 people has frequently been utilised as a viable ground to openly display racism. Issues of racism are well documented in football. Eric Cantona, a gifted and talented footballer who played for elite football clubs like Manchester United is ironically more remembered for his infamous kung fu kick against a spectator who racially abused him for being French. Former Arsenal and French Midfield star, Patrick Viera also made headlines for spitting at West Ham’s Neil Ruddock after being sent off. In his defense, Viera accused Ruddock of pushing him over and referring to him as a French Prat. Violence is certainly an unacceptable behavior in football. However, so also is racism. In recent times, the English national team faced racist abuses from fans during European championship qualifiers in Montenegro and Bulgaria. Chelsea’s defender, Antonio Rudiger, complained of racist chants from Tottenham Hotspurs fans during a London derby match. The Manchester derby has also been tainted by apparent monkey chants by Manchester City fans. Raheem Sterling, a Manchester City player, was racially abused by Chelsea fans, and the North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs in December 2018 is infamously more remembered for the banana skin thrown at Gabonese born Arsenal striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. From the above examples, racism in football has usually occurred as an anti-social fan behavior. In the most extreme cases, it has been a question of professionalism amongst football players, when a player displays acts of racism against another player. There have also been allegations of institutionalised racism through the underrepresentation of black people in football administration. Some victims of football racism have also described incidents of racism by their fellow teammates and managers.

The PSG v Basaksehir incident is however significant for two reasons. The refusal of Başakşehir players and crucially PSG players to continue the match is a demonstration of an overwhelming support from footballers and a signal that the tolerance for racism in football is becoming extremely unacceptable. It is anticipated that other footballers will take a cue from this incident and discontinue a match where there are serious and credible allegations or display of racism. One of the major complaints of victims of racism in football over the years is the lack of support from fellow footballers. On the flipside of the coin, the allegation of racist statements by a supposedly UEFA “neutral umpire” is also devastating. Beyond the human rights and moral implications arising from racism, it also brings the integrity of the game into disrepute. It is unimaginable that a racist official will conduct himself as a “neutral umpire” in the discharge of his duties during football matches. If the allegation against Sebastian Coltescu is true, then it would be an all-time low for the beautiful round-leather game.

As at the time of writing, the allegation of racism against Sebastian Coltescu has not been confirmed. UEFA has promised to open a thorough investigation into the incident immediately. Turkey President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has expressed his belief that the football body will take the necessary steps. What amounts to necessary steps in this instance is open for debate, but the author hopes for the sake of football, that the governing body will conduct a proper investigation to get into the root of the matter. If the allegations are true, the football body should adopt punitive measures against the individuals that are found culpable in the incident and also embark on institutional reforms such as anti-discrimination training for its members and official to combat racism in football.

About the Author

Foluso Adegalu is a Doctoral Researcher at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. His area of research includes human rights monitoring, civic rights and disability rights.

One Comment on “‘Why you say negro?’ Racism in football: the PSG v Basaksehir incident, an all-time low for football?”

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