African viewpoint: Kicking racism on and off the pitch

Mario Balotelli of Italy signs autographs for fans ahead of the Uefa Euro 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at National Stadium on 28 June 2012 in Warsaw, Poland Footballer Mario Balotelli, loved by many fans, has faced racist abuse during his career in Europe

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers why racism continues to infect the beautiful game.

For those of us who love to procrastinate, watching football is the ultimate task-interfering cognition - and so up and down the lands where football is beamed, men and women are avoiding cleaning or doing one more wash of the clothes, or the cooking, or whatever task is at hand to spend 90 minutes plus extra time watching the beautiful game and the world's best exponents of the art at play or battle.

Over this last month, however, the game has been bedevilled by the age-old argument over race.

It began with the captain of England receiving a four-match ban for using racially abusive language to a fellow professional more than a year ago.

This then degenerated into split camps over the merits of the English Football Association's "Let's Kick Racism out of Football" campaign.

And the issue refused to go away as football fans witnessed appalling behaviour when the Serbian Under-21 squad met their English counterparts in Krusevac, where the crowd mimicked monkey noises every time black players touched the ball.

Ideals of brotherhood
A Chelsea footballer in a "Unite Against Racism" armband - October 2009 Players are encouraged to wear messages urging people not to tolerate racism

During dinner the other day I complained to my eastern European friends that with the meltdown of their communist concrete a couple of decades ago, nothing had changed in their attitudes to the world at large, that they were a closed and myopic peoples who were once happy to sing the communist songs and urge the workers of the world to unite and yet they did not have a single race relations act between them.

That it is embarrassing to see many of the world's top leagues peppered by African talent being paid millions and still have idiots throwing bananas at the likes of Roberto Carlos and Christopher Samba and have the football mastery of Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry or Mario Balotelli reduced to the colour of the player's skin - embarrassing for them.

I went on about a time in African liberation movements when we all had pictures in the family albums of uncles and cousins being trained in the Soviet bloc, posing in snow in Romania or learning film-making or medicine in Moscow before the swing to the far right and the ugly love for all things Nazi amongst this vocal minority in 21st Century eastern Europe.

My friends listened patiently to my rant and reminded me that my generalisations were just as myopic.

Start Quote

Those that have killed off apartheid through the statute books have yet to find a way to erase it from people's heads”

End Quote

Their communist past was drunk with the utopian ideals of brotherhood for all, and why should they be expected to love the men their leaders kissed on the Kremlin parades or the African students they gave countless scholarships to?

And what is more, none of these former Eastern bloc countries invaded nations and looted their way through history and their lack of people of colour is simply because they were not Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Holland or Spain.

Of course they do not deserve a badge for not being colonialists but their race issues are Europe's problems, where, as we all know, a man's skin is his passport regardless of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile the great and the good are struggling to keep racism off the football pitches.

Lip service?

It matters little to the racists that the football World Cup travelled to South Africa and is about to travel to Brazil - rainbow nations both if ever the label fitted - and the Football Association in England has had coaching staff and players wearing badges and T-shirts urging folk to kick racism out of the game.

A football fan blows a vuvuzela trumpet outside Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg on 20 June 2010 just hours before the South Africa 2010 World Cup match between Brazil and Ivory Coast South Africa held a very successful World Cup tournament in 2010

Of course the governing body of world football, Fifa, whose leader once told us that players should just shake hands and avoid name calling, pays the same lip service to the promised eradication of race-fuelled disagreements, but nothing changes.

In another game somewhere on the planet, sticks and stones will not break bones but words will continue to harm.

The punishments are said to rarely fit the crimes and the game was being held hostage by the racists and more should be done.

The talk over racism lingered on and hung like a foul mist over the Euro 2012 competition in Poland and the Ukraine, and as last weekend's matches ended, the row threatened to take in referees and officials too.

But what can be done?

Besides passing onto our children how utterly precious their individual difference is and to value the same difference in others, how can we hope to trounce the racists by the statute books or by bigger bolder fines for millionaire federations and millionaire players?

Those that have killed off apartheid through the statute books have yet to find a way to erase it from people's heads.

And whether you are a footballer or an idle shopper or making your first pilgrimage to Mecca or being stopped and searched by the law - there will be occasions when your senses scream that the only logical explanation for your shoddy treatment must lie in your difference and that, we learn from the wise and learned, has been the way of shallow humanity since the days of Abraham, Othello, Mandela and Sitting Bull.

But we will continue to see coaches in "kick racism out of football" badges, players in message T-shirts and poets reading anti-racist poetry before kick-off.

In reality there is no other way than to speak up against the injustice, as the wise and learned would have us do, since blind narrow-minded prejudice can too often go beyond the football fields.

And a great deal of us know that already.

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's latest column, please use the form below.


More on This Story

Letter from Africa

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Having lived in a West African country for many,many years,let me tell you just how racist Blacks are,and not only against Whites. Black on Black racism was endemic,so perhaps Blacks should get their own house in order before criticising anyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Like never ending flood water, reports come out everyday about corruption and what amounts to virtual looting of country's money. Hallibutton, the oil industry, even banks and bankers- everybody is at it. Hospitals, schools, roads, every aspect of the country's infrastructure heading for meltdown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This whole idea about "sport is a unifying force" is becoming more hot air than the truth. I have watched attitudes among players on the pitch, the resurgence of racism, fighting among fans, and murder after football matches to believe otherwise. In Monrovia in 2011 alone, three fans, one each from ManU, Barca and Chelsea were killed during post-match arguments. Tell me what's unifying about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Blacks can be just as racist as whites. It needs kicking out on whichever side it occurs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Elmusay agt 117special I was not trying to make light of the suffering of anyone in the world that is subjected to racial abuse. I was pointing out that it is not just happening to people of one particular colour. Any form of racial , cultural or tribal abuse is not acceptable and people the world over should be working to abolish such behaviour whenever they can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I supposed there are African embassies in these countries. The officials there should take offence at seeing their high profile and not so high profile citizens being abused from time to time because of the color of their skins. There are things African Union can do to help bring an end to this uncivilized pattern of behavior in those countries where this is common.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Racism is born out of conditioning or wrong programming; an individual encounters programming or conditioning in schools, homes, local communities (in setting religious or none) and probably many more ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    We need to find the right way to get people under the banner “brotherhood of man” and “Oneness of God”, a practical solution not only legislating (rules, laws, regulation, statutes, policies, etc...)

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    JTSuperduck, (The Seller refused to sell his land to a black woman because she is marriage to a white) Let compare it to these: A man is stab or beating to death, Children are refused admission in some schools, Land lords refuse to rent their houses, working application are thrown out, simply because they are BLACKS. White families cast out their childrern from their families, Why?.........BLACKs

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's annoying when people like "9.Elmusay agt 117special" reduce racism to black/white. In SA we have white-English/white-Afrikaaner/white-Jewish/black-Zulu/black-Xhosa/Indian-Muslim many others. Because of the way most people are brought up and (not) educated, they all despise each other. And that is just 1 country. It isn't racism, it's tribalism. Until it is fixed, there is no hope for Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    9. Are Africans doing the same NO....My Kenyan wife tried to buy a plot of land in Mombasa today. As soon as the seller knew she was married to an English guy, the seller stormed out of the lawyers office shouting abuse to my wife. I have no racism in my body, I just feel sorry for people with that attitude, but believe me they come in all shades of grey. May he learn the errors of his ways

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Let stop beating around the bushes, and let hit the nail on the top of it head.
    The main question is, WHY WHITE PEOPLE ARE SO RASIST???I belive in Africa Rasist is not a problem. apart from South Africa, where you have meny white people. In this so called civilised world, the question is, the way whites are abusing blacks in their countries, Are Africans doing the same to whites in Africa? NO

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Racism in football will always be a minute problem in most places, it is only when it occurs so openly and viciously, as in Serbia, that it becomes a real issue affecting the game. Any country in which there are repeated racist incidents during international games, as in Serbia, should be thrown out of FIFA, plain and simple. If the moronic Serbs can't deal with black footballers, they can go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Racism is the way of life in all part of world.We know it is man made thing.Now a days same thing goes with the religions and politics..These are man made divisive policies.When child is born in this world does he/she care or know about these things?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    If you argue long enough with an imbecile, people will forget who the imbecile is!!

    The racicsts of this world know they are wrong that is why there are so few of them, maybe one day they will grow up and dislike particular individuals for exacting reasons

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I find it so bizarre that one footballer can insult another in any way he wants, with obscene and abusive language, insult his mother, doubt his parentage, accusations about his personal habits, anything at all.

    But, as soon as there's a slight whiff of a mention of his colour, we have to be saturated by our godawful media as they dissect it in every possible detail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    It is a tragedy that the states in Nigeria are nothing more than the equivalent of medieval fiefdoms. The governors of the states are laws onto themselves. They spend the state resources like their own personal wealth. Little wonder that they risk and sacrifice anything to become state governors This is their route to unprecedented wealth.. Nothing is left for local development.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Racism happens everywhere and you'll never stop races liking or disliking each other.

    It could manifest itself on a football pitch or at the local shops.

    The best thing is to ignore it because you won't change it, and it's not worth spending time on prejudiced people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Racism will never stop....The inherent hatred of race, tribe, creed, anything or anyone different from us is unfortunately the downside of human nature.However, we should never fail 2 call it, wherever we C it...


Page 1 of 2


More Africa stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.