‘If footballers can’t be respected on the pitch, they need to make a stand’

Football fails to deal with the racism despite it rearing its ugly head almost everywhere, writes Troy Townsend

RACISM IN FOOTBALL: Mario Balotelli attempted to leave the pitch after being subjected to racist abuse during a match against Hellas Verona (Photo by Maurizio Borsari/AFLO)

I WANT to start my column with some significant dates. Dates that might not have much meaning to many in my industry but should be ringing alarm bells right across football.

14 October 2019
19 October 2019
3 November 2019
10 November 2019
17 November 2019  

Racism exists, we all know that. It’s a societal problem, yes, we know that too, but the very nature of all of the above dates shows how football fails to deal with the issue despite it rearing its ugly head almost everywhere.

In Bulgaria the horrendous incidents during England’s win were beamed around the world. A section of Bulgarian fans aimed “two big fingers” up to UEFA and its supposed three-step protocol that would eventually lead to players being led of the pitch and games being abandoned. Although the officials on the night obviously didn’t want to go to those lengths.

The Bulgarians were punished, how could they not be? But seriously, it was an slap on the wrist from UEFA to a federation whose ground was already partially closed for the same reasons.

Fast forward five days and the many that said, ‘you are fine ones to talk in England’, saw exactly what they knew still existed in this country.

Little old Haringey Borough of non-league fame are creating a good name for themselves with style of play and while upsetting a few bigger clubs up the ladder. This time their manager, Tom Loiziou, took the unprecedented step of walking his players off the pitch in the prestigious FA Cup tie after allegations of, amongst other things, racial abuse towards a couple of their black players.

While these allegations are still being investigated, the clubs were ordered to replay the tie and we are none the wiser on what that investigation will bring. What if it actually finds Yeovil Town and fans guilty? They beat Haringey quite comfortably in the replayed game but should they even have been given the opportunity?

Remember Mario Balotelli of Manchester City fame? Well, he is still being racially abused, this time – and once again – in Italy as his current team Brescia travelled to Verona.

Balotelli booted the ball into the stands toward his abusers and proceeded to make an exit. The following actions of his teammates and Verona players worried me. It’s as if they were oblivious to anything and were nearly dragging Balotelli back on to the field. He did play on, he scored a belter but does that goal play down the impact of the racist abuse toward him?

Brescia president, Massimo Cellino – you might remember him from a spell at Leeds United – said, and I quote: “He [Balotelli] is black, what can I say? He’s working on getting lighter himself but he’s having a lot of difficulty.”

Apparently, his comments were a joke to deflect the issue. I wonder if they have asked Balotelli if he feels that way?

Taison, a Brazilian midfielder plying his trade out in Russia, was sent off for doing what Balotelli did, with the addition of sticking his middle finger up to the crowd. The Ukranian FA were more than happy to say the officials got the decision correct.

Lastly, but maybe most significantly, another disgraceful situation involved Ahmad Mendes Moreira. He was the victim in a Dutch fixture. What happened a week after the incident could be the most telling moment to challenge racism.

Teams from the top two divisions in the Dutch League, did not play the first minute in all fixtures to challenge the very existence of racism and, I for one think, it also challenges the lack of true action from the authorities around the globe.

Now, I wonder if this could catch on? It may just be the kind of step that’s needed. Without the players, there are no games. It’s their place of work and if they cannot be respected in that environment, then they need to make a stand for their own wellbeing.

Remember those dates from earlier in the piece, they actually may be more significant than we think.

Troy Townsend is head of development at Kick It Out

Comments Form


  1. | David Nakhid

    Troy, although your work and intentions are admirable, they’re not going to change anything. It’s like the slave begging the slave owner to set him free. We are doing exactly that. There will be no change societal or otherwise unless can impact the pockets and livelihoods of the folks in charge. Their lip service to kick out racism will follow the same model : racist incident – threat of stiffer sanctions – light sanctions implemented – move on black people …..and repeat ad nauseum. Even the approach of your noble group has not made much headway if you’re honest and not afraid of constructive criticism. If you want real solutions contact me for consultation.


  2. | L Caroo

    I think every action to stand up for change against racism is a positive step in the right direction. People are focusing on racism in football because it is in the news, but I am sure if a poll was done on how many people work/ live in an area with people who are racist it will show the true extent of this disease in our society. We do have a long way to go to stamp this out of society, but we have to start from somewhere. Yes I do agree that if companies or individuals are seeing a loss to their revenues due to racist behaviour it will make them act differently to help rectify the problem, but it is about different groups of people working together with the skills that they have to bring about change and saying “no” to any form of racism.


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