Brazil’s football team wore black shirts instead of yellow for the first time ever in a stand against racism.
During a friendly against Guinea in Barcelona on Saturday 17 June 2023, the Brazilian team played the entire first-half in dark colours – and took the knee before changing back into their bright yellow, blue and green kits.
It comes after player Vinicius Jr was targeted with racist abuse when Real Madrid took on Valencia at a Spanish league game in May.
The 22-year-old Brazilian-born player was handed a red card for violent conduct during the game at Valencia’s Mestalla ground after becoming enraged and pointing out supporters taunting him from the stands.
Real Madrid subsequently lodged a hate crime complaint with Spanish prosecutors after their 1-0 defeat. The red card was later rescinded by the Spanish football federation (RFEF).
Valencia were ordered to shut the Mario Kempes south stand, where the alleged abuse happened, for five matches and were fined €45,000 (29.5M FCFA) by the RFEF.
The incident on 21 May was not the first time Vinicius – or those close to him – had been racially abused while playing in La Liga, the most recent of which allegedly targeted Vinicius’s friend before the match at Espanyol’s stadium on Saturday.
President of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ednaldo Rodrigues, said: “The fight against racism, a crime that needs to stop around the world, is also why we are here.
“That’s also why our national team played the first half of the match in black. And today, once again, another criminal was publicly exposed.”
Both Brazil and Guinea also posed in front of a banner that read “with racism, there is no game”.
Vinicius, 22, has been the victim of racist abuse on many occasions in the past two seasons.
Brazil decided the friendly was a good opportunity to strike back as the match was staged on Spanish soil.
In a powerful move, Brazil abandoned their iconic yellow and green shirts and were instead kitted out in an all-black strip in a stand against racism for the first half of the game.
The Brazilian Football Confederation was behind the gesture accompanied by the slogan of “Com racismo nao tem jogo” (With racism, there is no game).
Back in February, a 20-year-old fan was fined €4,000 (2.6M FCFA), banned from stadiums for a year and had his membership to Mallorca football club revoked for three years after another incident where Vinicius was the target of racial abuse.
Real Valladolid also suspended 12 season ticket holders while investigating alleged verbal abuse against the player.
“There is no place for racism in football,” Gianni Infantino said after the incident. Instead he merely “recommended” football adopts FIFA’s three-step anti-racism protocol. First step – a stadium announcement warning the abuse should stop as was heard in Spain.
Step two in the FIFA process – after any further abuse – only urges the referee to take players off the pitch temporarily while fans are warned the game could be suspended if the abuse continues.
Gianni Infantino wrote: “The match restarts, and then, thirdly, if the attacks continue, the match will stop and the three points will go to the opponent.”
So, three opportunities at least for someone to be racially abused in his place of work before everyone is removed from the toxic environment.
Rather than offering “education” as a vague solution, why is Gianni Infantino not pressuring Spain and other countries to punish racism and implement protocols that prevent players from being exposed to hatred on three occasions before games are abandoned?
Infantino finally met the Brazilian national team and the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) President Ednaldo Rodrigues to discuss setting up a task force against racism in football, and the President vowed Brazil’s international forward Vinicius Junior will take a prominent role. “It’s very important not just to talk about racism and discrimination, but to take action in a decisive and convincing manner — zero tolerance,” Infantino said after the meeting in Barcelona, Spain.
“FIFA is together with the Brazilian Football Confederation and with all the players in this fight. It’s important to introduce sporting sanctions and I congratulate CBF for having done so already.”
The Spanish and Brazilian football federations presented their plan for a friendly match at the Santiago Bernabeu in March 2024 to combat racism, after global outrage at the abuse of Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior.
Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales and his Brazilian counterpart Ednaldo Rodrigues revealed their plans for the game: “(The game is) a way of saying ‘enough’,” said Rodrigues.
“It protects joy in our football, (and shows) this intolerance and attitude are unacceptable.”
Rubiales was happy about the arrangements for the match, given the slogan “The Same Skin.”
“I think it’s a great initiative on the part of both federations,” said Rubiales.
“It’s very important to use the power of football to denounce and fight against discrimination.”
Earlier in June legislators in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro approved a law to curtail football matches affected by racist abuse, after a wave of disgust over the treatment of Vinicius, a native of the state.
The practice of taking the knee before football matches became widespread in 2020.
It followed the murder in the US of George Floyd – an unarmed Black man – who was killed during an arrest by white officer Derek Chauvin.
Taking the knee has spread across the sporting world as a statement against racism.
Rather than demonstrating opposition to racism and support for the Black Lives Matter movement, it has been argued that kneeling actually shows support for a campaigning organisation also called Black Lives Matter.
A decline in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other high-profile deaths of Black people in encounters with police sparked a global outcry. Black Lives Matter, founded in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of a Black teenager, Trayvon Martin, began as a hashtag and grew into a global organization. American athlete Colin Kaepernick took the knee during the national anthem before a match in 2016. He said he could not stand to show pride in the flag of a country that oppressed black people. The anti-racist statement has since become a prominent symbol in sport and during protests. “There’s no historical evidence whatsoever that America has ever been interested in Black liberation and building an equitable society. We are simply coming to grips with our romantic ideals that are running up against our political realities. And the fact stands that America has constantly and will constantly struggle with the liberation of Black bodies, because we are endemically a racist society,” said Vida Robertson, the director of the Center for Critical Race Studies at the University of Houston-Downtown.
There is now however widespread agreement that racism has been embedded in the public and private institutions that govern our lives and dictate our access to services, justifying the demands for specific actions to undo the harmful results.
The Brazilian model in fighting against racism
Black people in Brazil are beaten to death in supermarkets on Black Consciousness Day, routinely harassed and brutalised by the police, and even cropped out of marketing photos for private schools so only their white peers are shown. The football field is usually one of the few places where black Brazilians are not subjected to prejudice and racism, a stage that provides a form of escapism from the harsh realities of everyday life.
In a land home to one of the world’s most racially unequal societies, where public education is poor, access to private schooling is expensive and the minimum wage is miserly, football stereotypically offers one of the few avenues to a better life for young black kids and their families, making professional employment in the industry the dream of millions.
Dani Alves, who started his career at Bahia, has been critical of the punishments given to racists in the Brazilian game. “It seems a shame to me that we have evolved in so many banal things, but in the things that we really should have evolved, we have been getting more stupid,” he wrote on Instagram. “As long as there is no severe punishment, it will never end.”
Racist offences are seen as part of the ‘sporting culture’. The absence of black people in commanding positions – such as coaches, directors and club presidents – is normalised, even though football is full of black idols and great athletes. The lack of representation in the sport’s most powerful roles is one of the reasons why racist offences generally go unpunished, and why victims are blamed.
“It is important to understand that harder punishment needs to be applied in cases of racism by the football authorities,” Rodrigues (CBF President) told a news conference.
“Fines are not enough. The clubs need to be held accountable too. CBF was the first football federation to adopt harder sanctions for cases of racism, such as the deduction of points in league standings, closure of stands or the lifetime expulsion of club members.
“We need to lead a campaign worldwide to fight against this virus that shames everyone in football.”
Last month, the CBF also launched a national campaign against racism in Brazilian league matches with the slogan “There is no game with racism”.
As the first Black man to lead the CBF in more than 100 years of the organisation’s history, Rodrigues considers the fight against discrimination in football to be one of his priorities.
The CBF is the first ruling body in the world to adopt such a measure.
Brazilian President Lula da Silva has sanctioned a law which equates the crime of racial insult to racism and provides for increased penalties for offences committed at sporting and cultural events in the country.
What FIFA should do to tackle racism
For the past 40 years, players, some dark-skinned and Africans have suffered racism at the hands of “supporters”.
A star in Cameroon but little known in Spain upon his arrival in club Espanyol Barcelone in 1982, Thomas Nkono was racially abused in the Camp Nou stadium during a derby against F.C Barcelone.
Some members of the public chanted racist songs and threw bananas on the pitch.
Speaking recently to a reporter from Spanish El Confidencial, the now 66-year-old goalkeeper had not forgotten the incident: “the funniest was that, in the stands, one section called me names when another whistled at them for them to stop. I’ve also took that as a challenge.”
Idriss Carlos Kameni, a compatriot of Nkono and fellow player at Espanyol Barcelone, also suffered racist chants from the public in Zaragoza in 2004.
The goalkeeper revealed his worst memory as he spoke to Cadena Ser radio in 2017: “We were winning 1-0 and they had called me names.”
“Even the referee asked me if I felt well enough to keep on playing. I didn’t even know where I was anymore, but I found the strength to keep playing.”
Alfonso Perez Burrull halted a fixture in 2005 because of racist abuse spectators inflicted on Kameni in in Malaga.
Reuters called him that year “one of the most active referees in reporting racist behaviour by fans.”
And there was no shortage of abuse. Bananas would be thrown on Kameni at the Atlético Madrid’s stadium. “When a person goes through such a thing, they can go back home and commit suicide,” the footballer told TV station Movistar in 2020.
“Nobody can ever imagine what I lived.”
Samuel Eto’o’s five years at the FC Barcelona (2004-2009) were punctuated by racist abuse.
In an incident, the forward lobbed a ball at Getafe fans after some made monkey noises from the stands. For that, Eto’o got a yellow card.
Two weeks later, as his club played Albacete, the Cameroonian legend was once again racially abused.
As the litany of abuse continued Eto’o defiantly celebrated a goal against Real Zaragoza in 2005.
“[…] If somebody pays for a ticket to make a monkey noise at me, then I’ll act like a monkey,” he later stated.
This culminated in 2006 when, as Eto’o yet again faced Zaragoza. The star player had suffered racist taunts from a section of the stands for a large part of the fixture.
At some point, as he was to shoot a corner, he was not having it anymore.
“No más! No juego más!”, he would not be playing anymore. As he started walking off the pitch, his teammates, players from Zaragoza’s and the referee tried to convince him to stay. But he was unwilling. It is eventually after yet another intervention that the Cameroonian player continued the fixture.
A few days later, the Spanish federation fined Real Zaragoza 9,000 euros.
The list of African players who have suffered racism on the pitch in Spain is long: Nico Williams, Mouctar Diakhaby, Frédéric Kanouté, Yaya Touré and many more were abused.
Hanging from a highway bridge in Madrid, an effigy of one of the world’s most famous Black football players stands as a graphic reminder of the racism that sweeps through European football.
In truth, the signs are everywhere
In Italy, where monkey chants swirled around the stadium in April as a Black player celebrated a goal. In England, where a banana peel thrown from a hostile crowd during a game in north London landed at the feet of a Black player after he scored a penalty. In France, where Black players from the men’s national team were targeted with horrific racial abuse online after they lost in last year’s World Cup final.
Go outside Europe and you’ll find them, too.
In Australia, where there were monkey noises and fascist chanting during last year’s Australia Cup final. In South America, where matches in the continent’s biggest competition, the Copa Libertadores, have been blighted by monkey chants. In North Africa, where Black players from visiting teams from sub-Saharan Africa have complained of being targets of racist chants by Arab fans.
The manifestation of a deeper societal problem, racism is a decades-old issue in football — predominantly in Europe but seen all around the world — that has been amplified by the reach of social media and a growing willingness for people to call it out. And to think that it was only 11 years ago that Sepp Blatter, then president of football governing body FIFA, denied there was any racism in the game, saying any abuse should be resolved with a handshake.
Football needs outside help with racism and gets it through anti-discrimination campaigners such as Kick It Out in Britain and LICRA in France. The Fare network, a pan-European group set up to counter discrimination in football, places undercover observers in crowds at Europe’s biggest games to detect racist chants and extremist symbols on banners.
Racism is not a football challenge, it is a world-wide infraction that will not stop tomorrow.
If the world will make any headway in the fight, then the game as a spectacle has to be reduced by every racist incident. Eto’o said, “We play for the fans. It is right that some decisions are shared. It is a way to make them responsible and start a dialogue.”
The dialogue has to be multi-dimensional, one not restricted to just football. It is a human dereliction that will not be properly discussed because some nations and some peoples believe they are better than others. As long as this unhinged and unintelligent thought persists, the issue of racism will be one we have to live with.
FIFA’s slogan : ‘For the Good of the Game, For the Game, For the World’ has to be more inclusive such that we should proudly say: ‘I Love the Beautiful Game’ without any ambiguity.
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