Football, the ugly game

Action in the TT-Mexico Concacaf Gold Cup soccer match in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday. AP PHOTO - Michael Ainsworth
Action in the TT-Mexico Concacaf Gold Cup soccer match in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday. AP PHOTO - Michael Ainsworth

FOOTBALL is called “the beautiful game,” but there is nothing beautiful about the racism still plaguing the sport, as demonstrated over the weekend.

Verbal attacks – including racist statements and death threats – were hurled at the TT men’s team during and after Saturday’s draw against Mexico in the opener of the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Then, after the Euro 2020 final on Sunday, England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were subjected to racist abuse on social media after missing penalties at Wembley.

Local football has been through a lot lately, given the pandemic, the national team’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup and subsequent changes to coaching arrangements.

This weekend’s incidents suggest the hostile international climate might well be another barrier our team faces in its comeback.

This time last year, the world pledged to have a serious conversation about race. Protesters hit the streets. Monuments of oppressive systems were removed. What has happened since?

Some have gone back to denying racism is a problem. Take, for instance, the startlingly wrong-footed approach of the UK Cabinet on institutional racism in its country.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose own checkered past of making offensive statements in relation to minority groups did little to prevent his rise to power, has faced criticism this week for his hypocrisy on the issue. At the start of the Euro tournament earlier this year, Mr Johnson failed to defend English players – of all races – who were booed for taking the knee in protest against racism.

This was notwithstanding the very long history of racism in English football: a history of monkey chants, the throwing of bananas and all manner of disgraceful abuse being hurled at black players since the 1930s. In 2015, rabid Chelsea fans pushed a black passenger off a subway train in Paris before a match.

The truth is racism is just the tip of an ugly iceberg. Sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are also rampant.

Mexican fans, too, have a long history of inappropriate conduct, including the use of homophobic slurs. FIFA had cause to open an investigation earlier this year after a friendly with Iceland played at the same location at Arlington, Texas, where TT played on Saturday.

This week, however, there is some cause for hope. Concacaf was quick in condemning the attacks on TT players.

And there has been considerable outpouring of support for the English players including Mr Rashford, 23, who last year helmed an admirable campaign to get Mr Johnson to reverse his decision to cut school meals.

But fighting racism requires more than statements and glossy advertising campaigns. This weekend’s events prove stronger, more co-ordinated international action is required and that political actors all over the world have a role to play.


"Football, the ugly game"

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