Anti-racist solidarity during Euro 2020 should not be ‘controversial’ – Middle East Monitor

Another football “controversy” arose when footballers in the current UEFA Euro 2020 tournament knelt before kick-off to protest racism, a serious problem plaguing football stadiums since many years. While some teams and players have chosen to kneel, others have chosen not to. Spurious excuses such as “the players weren’t ready” and “politics should stay out of football” have been put forward.

Racism in sport is a very real problem, although it cannot be separated from racism in society in general. In fact, reactions to the principled position taken by many actors themselves reflected the way in which right-wing, populist and chauvinist political movements exert massive influence across Europe, as these movements often define the dominant political sensitivities. Politics is therefore already present in football, and “kneeling” is a reaction to negative political manifestations affecting the sport.

For example, the French national team has a number of top players, mostly black and Muslim. They were attacked by right-wing politicians and media to the point that on June 15 the whole squad decided not to kneel at the start of their matches, due to the possibility of racist repercussions.

In this example, racism in sport won out over anti-racist solidarity. Moreover, the country’s highest football authority, the French Football Federation (FFF), does not even recognize the need to discuss the issue. FFF president Noel Le Graet is said to have said that racism “does not exist”, following an incident last September during the Marseille-Paris Saint Germain match, when Brazilian PSG player Neymar was called “monkey motherf **** r” during a fight.

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Not only are racist incidents at football matches on the increase and well documented in France and elsewhere, but the “monkey” insult is particularly popular among European football fans who, sometimes in groups, perform “monkey songs. “targeting black players. When such a despicable practice finally gained national attention in Italy, a court dismissed the case as “unfounded”, and fans who were caught “singing monkeys” on camera were ” acquitted unconditionally “.

It is therefore unfortunate that only half of the Italian squad knelt before their game against Wales on June 20 and then decided not to kneel at all in a subsequent game. It is telling that while racism in sport continues to prevail, anti-racist solidarity is seen as unnecessary and divisive.

Romelu Lukaku of Belgium takes a knee to support the Black Lives Matter movement ahead of the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 2, 2021 in Munich, Germany. [Matthias Hangst/Getty Images]

The truth is that football, like any other sport, is a reflection of our societies; our unity and divisions; our economic privileges and socio-economic inequalities; our strong community ties; and, yes, our racism. Instead of trying to fully understand and, if necessary, change these relationships, some simply choose to ignore them altogether.

Claims that “sport and politics should not mix” are not just wishful thinking – they ignore the fundamental principle that sport is a direct expression of reality – but are also a devious way to hijack the attention to fundamental issues that should concern everyone. We heard the same during the apartheid era in South Africa, and we hear the same today against efforts to get athletes, as well as artists, to boycott the apartheid state. Israel, a country which, moreover, is a member of UEFA and participates in its tournaments.

This deceptive logic falls into the same category as “All Lives Matter”, a response to the legitimate outcry for racial justice under the banner “Black Lives Matter”. The latter is intended to illustrate – in fact, challenge – racism and violence, which disproportionately target black people in the United States specifically because of their skin color. The first, while quite accurate, is intended to deceive and undermine the urgency to tackle systemic racism in society and its institutions.

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When American football player Colin Kaepernick knelt in 2016 during the national anthem before a game to protest racial injustice, he wanted to be disruptive. It was not a question of “dishonoring” American “values” and “symbols”, but of forcing millions of people out of their comfort zone to face issues far greater than winning or losing a game. of football. His statement was a highly visible act of protest against the mistreatment of black communities across the United States. As a black man with access to media platforms, it was his moral duty to speak out, and he did. But this entirely symbolic and non-violent act was seen by many in government, media and society as a betrayal, which ultimately cost the professional athlete his career.

The entire episode reverberated around the world and the violent, often racist, reactions were all politically motivated, proving – albeit unconsciously, no doubt – that the relationship between politics and human rights man on the one hand, and sport on the other, is impossible to avoid. Interestingly, those who insist that Kaepernick and those who followed his example violate the sanctity of sport have no qualms that other primarily political acts are tied to sporting rituals, such as national anthems. , flags and nationalist songs. In the United States, Soldiers are honored before matches for their service in various wars, and occasionally Air Force jets fly overhead, intoxicating onlookers with the might and might of the United States Army. Why are such political acts apparently acceptable at sporting events, but a single black man kneeling down to shed light on the plight of innocent victims of police brutality is seen as an act of treason?

Sport can, of course, be a source of harmony and unity. Evidenced by the heartwarming exchange between Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and Iranian Ali Daei when, on June 24, Ronaldo equaled the international goalscoring record held by the Iranian player. Sadly, sport is also teeming with political symbolism and reflections of deep-rooted socio-political ills.

Racism is a political disease, like cancer in society. He must be stopped, on and off the pitch. While kneeling will not end racism, this act of solidarity should serve as the start of a conversation; a principled position of the players which should be applauded, not condemned as a “controversial” act.

The opinions expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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