We watched as our idols took a knee before each game, we watched as our idols carried “Say No To Racism” banners before each game. We watched as our idols wore anti-racism armbands or badges on their shirts. And we watched as football as a whole continued to fail as they do nothing to tackle the racism that runs through the sport.
We witnessed this numerous times in the Premier League, as some instances come to mind such as when Patrice Evra was racially abused by Luis Suarez. We witnessed it in Serie A as the league itself decided to show its stance against racism by using pictures of monkeys with painted faces. We saw it in the UEFA Champions League in a match between Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir which resulted in the match being called off and continued the next day. This didn’t happen 5 or 10 years ago. This happened in the past few years. This is what modern-day football is. The most recent instance of racism happened on April 4, 2021.
In La Liga, Valencia took on Cadiz in a match that only took 32 minutes before football was no longer the focus for anyone on the pitch. Valencia player Mouctar Diakhaby was the victim of racist abuse by Juan Cala from Cadiz, and it resulted in the match being called off momentarily. A few minutes later, both teams decided to go back on the pitch as Diakhaby was substituted off and was seen in tears in the tunnel. Juan Cala? On the pitch and ready to play as if nothing really happened. Somehow, this isn’t the worst part of the story as Cala AND Diakhaby both received yellow cards.
Now, this brings up a lot of questions that honestly should never be asked, especially in 2021, such as “Why is Cala allowed to continue playing?” We watched Diakhaby in tears as his teammates continued to play, which he apparently encouraged them to because Valencia were informed that they would forfeit (and potentially lose more points) if they stopped playing. However, in my opinion, Valencia should have walked off and stayed off the pitch without even thinking about continuing the game. Instead, they decided to go back on the pitch and come out with a tweet in hopes that maybe that could make a difference. Spoiler alert: it won’t.
Next question and possibly the biggest one that needs to be asked: Why did Diakhaby get booked? What did he do? This is a man who was attacked with words about who he was. The words chosen by Juan Cala were racist abuse direct at Diakhaby for being Black. That’s it. Did he not have a right to defend himself? Was he expected to stay silent? Was he expected to let Cala say what he wanted to say and then get on with the game or just hope that the referee does something about it?
I cannot and will not bring myself to reference the exact words used by Cala. The reason is that the words that were said are not as important as the meaning behind them and the hatred and pure racism behind them from Juan Cala. He will probably come out at some point and apologize before adding that it was in the heat of the moment and his words weren’t meant as they were said.
Do not let that cloud the fact that Juan Cala is racist. There is no excuse for the words he said.
The fact that La Liga felt the best course of action was to let Valencia know that they will potentially lose points if they decided to not get back into the game says everything about how racism is being handled. If the people in power cannot find the ability to stand against injustice, how can the sport even think about moving forward?
Football has come a long way, it really has. Kids dream of being footballers. Idols and heroes of so many children and teenagers around the world take the pitch every week and get paid handsomely to play the game. So many players and so many teams are followed religiously by billions of people around the world. However, meaningfully addressing racism has never been a priority regardless of what the higher-ups say. It’s true that football is described as “the beautiful game”, but it has a very ugly side that has been ignored for too long.
Players can take the knee, they can wear the armbands, and the footballing associations can pretend as though everything is okay. But it is not okay. In the end, actions speak louder than words, and in the continent where football is supposedly at its most advanced, anti-racism continues to take a back seat. There are only so many different things you could do to make yourself look good on camera but in the end, strict punishments are needed for each and every single player that decides to say ‘yes’ to racism. Suspensions and fines can go a long way especially if they’re aggressive. A one-game ban won’t do much but wouldn’t a ten-game ban from all competitions actually make a difference in the long run? What about fifteen? Add to that a very hefty fine to be paid by the player where the full payment will be used as a donation and honestly, we could start to see some change.
We are talking about racism that we have seen and not the ones that happen off-camera where matters are so much worse. Football cannot control everyone’s behavior but it can do its part which it hasn’t yet. When the children and the teenagers see how racism is dealt with as their heroes take the pitch, things can slowly but surely change.
Racism did not start in football nor will it end in football but with the influence that football has, it can start a change in the right direction. Things will only get worse from here if football does not put an end to it.
We have come too far as a society to let this be what holds us back. We have taken strides forward, but we will always be years behind where we should be if we cannot get rid of racism once and for all. Together, we can achieve wonders. Together, we can make this world great in so many ways, and together we can move forward and leave the past as a lesson and nothing more.
Lastly, I need to add a personal statement about the article you have just read.
By writing this article, I completely understand that I have played my part in making racism a little more looked at and I may have even encouraged some people to go on Twitter or any other website and search for videos and images that show what has happened. By doing that, I understand that I have possibly brought up some memories of racism back to the surface for many viewers, and for that, I do apologize. However, we cannot ignore what is happening and to begin fixing this problem, the first step is to witness it and recognize that there is a problem.
I do not imagine to know the pain that other individuals go through and I am not in any way attempting to pretend to know some of the hatred around the world. I am only writing this in hopes that I am allowed to lend my voice to a discussion that is long overdue.
Finally, let’s find the strength to move forward together. If the current leaders are unable to speak up and fight for what’s right then let us find ways to take control of the narrative and make positive choices for us now so that at least the future leaders will have the correct mentality to fight the injustices that are faced by so many people.