Keeping score

Keeping score

Time for football to tackle racism epidemic?

Joseph Blatter. Getty Images

I could feel the frustration in his voice. Kevin-Prince Boateng had decided to make a stand. It wasn’t the first time he had faced racial abuse and he wasn’t going to take it any more. The AC Milan midfielder took a stand and, in my view, became a hero.

During our 15-minute phone conversation, an exclusive interview for CNN, I could tell Boateng was not only frustrated, but also upset that football authorities have not been doing enough to combat racism.

He was angry that currently there is no rule or law in place where players or teams can walk off the field if they are racially abused.

The 25-year-old – born in Germany but who has represented his father's country Ghana – told me he would do it again. Whether it was in a Champions League or World Cup final, he would walk off the pitch if fans insulted him.
This statement should serve as a warning to governing bodies like FIFA and UEFA. There is a decent chance a game could be abandoned in the near future if a team decides to protest against prejudice. Unfortunately, it is a warning they will probably not take seriously.

Why? Well, did you hear what FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Sunday? The soccer boss had the audacity to declare he did not support Boateng’s decision to walk off the field, or “run away” as he labeled it. He added that it sets a dangerous precedent for the future when players leave the field.

What was he thinking? Has Blatter ever been racially abused? Has he ever felt prejudice? I doubt it. So how can this man have the nerve to say something like that?

If anything, the FIFA president should have said he does not want to see matches abandoned, but in extreme circumstances, like the ones in Italy on Thursday, he would always support the players. Players have feelings and they deserve to be taken into account.

UEFA haven’t looked great in the face of this latest racism scandal either. They did not even register it, or address it in any way.
In my view, football’s governing bodies missed a golden opportunity to make a point and to look like they understand what football’s true problems are.

Financial Fair Play? Yes, it is important, but how is protecting the integrity of players not a bigger priority? I simply do not understand.

Honestly, I hope there is another Boateng. And another. Obviously I don’t want to see more incidents of racism in football, but if they occur I want players to take a stand.

I also hope some of football’s major sponsors will take notice. Maybe the only way governing bodies will react is if companies threaten to withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars of investment from the game. It shouldn’t come to that, but maybe money will speak louder than morals. Again.

So what would I do if I could make a difference? Simple. Any time there was any kind of racist chant or behavior from fans in the stands, the club would have to play five matches behind closed doors.

If it happened again, I would make it 10 matches. I would also give players and teams the right to walk off the pitch if they felt threatened by fans.

Obviously common sense would have to be applied, and the referee would have to approve the decision, but the athletes need to have more power and they need to be able to defend themselves.

To add to these two measures, I would make all federations dedicate part of their yearly budget to running anti-prejudice campaigns.

Obviously not every federation could contribute the same, but every little initiative would help to educate and enlighten people around the world.

These simple changes could make a difference. Playing matches behind closed doors would cost clubs millions of dollars, while education will always have an effect on people.

So well done Kevin-Prince Boateng, you have become a pioneer. By taking a stand, you have made yourself heard and hopefully more of your colleagues will revolt against abuse. There is no place for it in the beautiful game.

Posted by: CNN World Sport Anchor, Pedro Pinto


Pedro Pinto Pedro Pinto

Pedro Pinto

Pedro Pinto is a sports anchor for CNN International, covering sports across the world with an emphasis in soccer. Versión española

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