The recent incidents with Muntari and Sinclair prove that we need to keep fighting to eradicate bigotry from the game once and for all, says KADEEM SIMMONDS
WHEN Fifa decided to disband their racism task-force last September, claiming that it has “completely fulfilled its temporary mission,” people rightfully laughed as the problem was still prevalent and given what has happened over the past few weeks, a new one should be set up immediately.
However, we all know this won’t happen and Fifa president Gianni Infantino can call the people who racially abused Sulley Muntari idiots and say that “it’s good to bring these things out when they happen. We have to work,” but no-one is working to solve the problem.
It’s not like the original task force did much. “We never had a single meeting under [former Fifa vicepresident Jeffrey Webb],” task force member Osasu Obayiuwana said last year. “I wrote [Webb], more than once, asking for when a meeting would be held. But I never received a reply from him.”
So while it was totally inept, it at least it gave the impression that they was trying to solve the problem whereas now, they are trying to pretend that they actually solved racism. Who are they fooling?
Next year’s World Cup is still being held in Russia, despite the blatant racism problem and there has been no effort to combat it.
Infantino said he will speak to Muntari and Carlo Tavecchio, the Italian federation’s president, to “work together,” but nothing will come of those meetings.
Tavecchio was banned for racism himself in 2014 when he made a comment about a fictitious African player he named Opti Poba “eating bananas” during the campaign for the presidency.
“In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play,” he said at the time. “Here instead we get ‘Opti Poba,’ who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio.”
The Italian Football Association cleared him of any wrongdoing and Fifa had to intervene — by banning him from holding a Fifa position for six months. That’s a slap on the wrist.
That Tavecchio is still in charge and the Italian FA’s reaction to Muntari walking off a pitch after being racially abused — he was booked for dissent for asking the referee stop the game — was to suspend him for one match.
That has since been overturned when Muntari appealed against the decision and the amount of pressure put on the Italians by the football community. But the fact remains that they felt Muntari was the one who should be punished and that is an absolute joke.
Why was he punished in the first place? The referee should have taken control of the situation and stopped the game, as he is supposed to.
“The three step process [is] stop the game, make an announcement, stop the game a while, get the players out,” Infantino said yesterday.
Muntari made the right decision to walk off and has since said that the racist abuse he suffered wasn’t a one-off, it happens every week and nothing is being done about it.
“I went through hell, I was treated just like a criminal,” he said.
“I went off the field because I felt it wasn’t right for me to be on the field while I have been racially abused. If I had this problem today, tomorrow or the next game I would go off again.
“And I’d recommend it to others. If they are not feeling it they should walk off.”
Italy had another racism incident over the weekend. Juventus defender Medhi Benatia was giving a post-match interview with Italian broadcaster Rai when he heard someone say in his earpiece: “What are you saying, Moroccan shit.”
Rai have since apologised but this shows how awful the problem is, someone working for a TV company deemed it acceptable to say that to Benatia.
They probably didn’t realise he would hear them but that isn’t an excuse and hopefully that person will be sacked.
However, Italy and Russia aren’t the only countries trying to combat racism in the stands.
Celtic’s Scott Sinclair has been racially abused over the past few weeks, first by a Rangers fan in the crowd at Ibrox making monkey gestures while he celebrated a goal, and then again on social media when a woman took her young daughter to the zoo, took a picture of her next to some monkeys with the caption: “Just bumped into Scott Sinclair at Edinburgh Zoo.”
Sinclair has reacted calmly to the two incidents and held up a “Love Celtic, Hate Racism” T-shirt on Sunday given to him by fans. But it is disgraceful that he is having to respond to racism at all in 2017.
And I do disagree with Muntari when he says that other countries need to learn from England — things are not perfect over here.
“I never heard anything like that in England because I think they don’t tolerate it,” he said.
“The people who are racist are really scared to do it in a stadium because they will get prosecuted or banned. But in Italy they go free.
“England is the example for the world. If a country doesn’t tolerate it then it means you get rid of it.”
While the punishments may be more severe in England, racism exists. Kick It Out and other organisations are still trying to eradicate it but the problem persists and we have a long way to go.