Kneeling against racism: EURO 2020 solidarity should not be ‘controversial’


Another football ‘controversy’ began when football players participating in the ongoing ‘UEFA Euro 2020’ knelt during the national anthems to protest racism, a serious problem that has plagued football stadiums since. many years.

Yet while some players chose to kneel down, others chose not to, offering flimsy excuses like ‘the players were not ready’ and ‘politics should stay out of football’. Racism in sport is real, although it cannot be separated from racism in society. In fact, reactions to the moral positions adopted by some actors reflected the way in which right-wing, populist and chauvinist movements exert such massive influence over various European societies, as these movements often define the dominant political sensitivities.

For example, the national team of France, largely made up of black and Muslim French players, was attacked by right-wing politicians and media to the point that on June 15 the whole team decided not to sit down. kneel at the start of his matches. , probably fearing racist repercussions.

In the French example, racism in sport prevailed over anti-racist feelings. Worse, the highest football federation in the country, the French Football Federation (FFF) does not even recognize the need to address the issue. The president of the FFF, Noel Le Graet, is said to have declared that racism “does not exist”, following an incident last September during the Marseille-Paris Saint Germain match, when the Brazilian Neymar was called ” monkey mother “during a fight.

Not only are racist incidents in football matches on the rise and well documented in France and elsewhere, but the insult of the ‘monkey’ is particularly popular among European football fans who, sometimes in groups, engage in letting go. This is called “monkey song,” which specifically targets black gamers and other dark-skinned gamers. When the despicable practice in Italy finally gained national attention, an Italian court dismissed the case as “unfounded”, and fans who were caught “singing monkeys” on camera were “acquitted without condition “.

With that in mind, it was unfortunate that only half of the Italian squad knelt in their game against Wales on June 20, and ultimately they decided not to kneel at all during a subsequent match. It is telling that while racism in sport continues to prevail, anti-racist actions are seen as unnecessary and divide.

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

Statements such as “sport and politics must not mix” are not just wishful thinking – as they ignore the fundamental principle that sport is a direct expression of reality – they are also devious because they aim to distract from the fundamental issues that should concern everyone. .

This deceptive logic falls into the same category as the phrase “all lives matter” in response to the legitimate outcry for racial justice under the banner of “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; while the former, while technically accurate, is intended to deceive and undermine the urgency of dealing with systemic racism.

When American football player Colin Kaepernick knelt down in 2016 to protest racial injustice, he really wanted to bother, not to “dishonor” American “values” and “symbols,” but to force millions of people. people to step out of their comfort zone to face bigger issues than winning or losing a football match. His statement was an 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. 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 athlete his career.

The whole episode, which resonated around the world and the violent, often racist, reactions were political, unintentionally proving, once again, that the relationship between politics and human rights, d ‘on the one hand, and sport on the other hand, are impossible to separate. Interestingly, those who have insisted that Kaepernick violated the sanctity of the sport have no qualms about accepting other primarily political acts through football: the national anthem, the endless display of flags, nationalist chants, soldiers honored for their service in various wars and, at times, air force fighter jets flying above us, intoxicating the crowds with the might and might of the army American. Why is nationalist politics acceptable when 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?

Whether practical or not, sport is full of political symbols and reflects existing realities: inequalities, racism, etc. It can also be a source of harmony and unity. In fact, sometimes it is, just like the heartwarming exchange between Portuguese international player Cristiano Ronaldo and Iranian footballer Ali Daei when, on June 24, Ronaldo tied Daei’s international goalscoring record. It can also be a reflection of entrenched socio-political ills, such as racism.

Racism is a political disease, like cancer cells that spread throughout the body, or the body politic in society. He must be stopped, on and off the pitch. While kneeling won’t end racism, it is meant to serve as a conversation starter, players’ moral stance, and a meaningful gesture of camaraderie and humanity.

– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and editor-in-chief of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These chains will be broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons ”(Clarity Press). Dr Baroud is a non-resident principal investigator at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). Its website is www.ramzybaroud.net

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