A commentary on recent incidents in football involving racism, and what FIFA and UEFA can do to stop them.
Diakhaby and Kamara
The setting is Valencia. Mid-afternoon, the innocuous mid-table clash between Valencia and Cadiz, a fairly unsuspecting and unimposing encounter poised at 1-1 and slowly approaching half-time. Cadiz wins a long free-kick that is launched deep into the penalty area, and the ball is contested somewhat robustly in the air by Mouctar Diakhaby and Juan Cala. Allegedly, some unsavory, words were from Juan Cala’s covered mouth to the point of Diakhaby’s visible anger and need for restraint according to Sky Sports. The referee booked Diakhaby for unsportsmanlike conduct and once Diakhaby relayed the details of the full encounter with Cala to the referee, he walked off the pitch accompanied by his teammates.
This is was absolutely the right thing to do from Valencia but the real injustice comes in the 20 minutes during which the game was suspended. According to Valencia club captain Jose Gaya after the match, the squad was pressured to go back on to the field or faced a forfeit and possibly even a points deduction should they have decided to stay off. In a time of real emotional distress for Diakhaby, being forced to decide on his team’s league fortunes while still reportedly extremely upset was simply the wrong call from the LaLiga board, and once again highlights the real lack of support for minorities in football. If something is exchanged between two players to the point of one team having to leave the pitch entirely, the game should probably be abandoned and the incident investigated immediately, rather than forcing the allegedly abused to continue playing for such a relatively unimportant game. It’s a sure sign of the ignorance of football associations in terms of racism. Diakhaby was substituted when the team returned to the pitch, and Cala was later withdrawn at half-time. The game ended 2-1 to Cadiz.
To make matters worse, on the 10th of April 2021, LaLiga retrospectively released a verdict that denied Cala of any wrongdoing, CNN quotes the board as saying “there is not enough evidence to suggest Juan Cala racially abused Mouctar Diakhaby.” A cowardly verdict so as not to cause any upset nor legal action, (given that racial upset is not considered to be important enough for them to consider any real repercussions for Cala) this effective shrug of the shoulders from the Spanish FA shows the blatant lack of respect towards black footballers as well as the difficulty for believability when one is racially abused in the sport. Again, should the initial reaction itself not be indicator enough? I doubt all 11 players would have agreed to walk off the pitch had no form of unacceptably derogatory insult not been exchanged.
Furthermore, the “innocent until proven guilty” approach of investigation from LaLiga, in this case, is a microaggression in and of itself. Following several statements from Diakhaby, the decision to go ahead with an investigation rather than immediately punish Cala shows a certain cluelessness from LaLiga officials. In their eyes, these things simply can’t exist in their footballing institute. ‘Racism? In LaLiga? Can’t be possible. We wouldn’t have it.’ This almost blissfully ignorant mindset is more damaging to players of colour, as they now have to fight for believability as well as come to terms with the fact that these kinds of things still exist. I can’t imagine the effect this non-guilty verdict had on Diakhaby, who has now been violated both as a black person and as a credibly human being.
The entire situation followed a similar blueprint in the now-infamous incident of Glen Kamara and Slavia Prague during their Europa League Round of 16-second leg tie. The visitors Slavia Prague were in control of the tie, winning 3-1 on the night before an altercation between Ondrej Kudela and a visibly upset Glen Kamara, in which Kamara later claimed he was racially abused. The situation escalated to the point where Kamara allegedly assaulted Kudela in the tunnel following the match. At the full-time whistle, Rangers manager Steven Gerrard confirmed the alleged racial abuse in his post-match interview with BT Sport, calling UEFA to take action against Slavia Prague.
Slavia Prague put out a statement that vehemently denied any form of racism (despite, once again, a visible reaction from Kamara) and continued to lament Kamara for his alleged use of violence in retaliation. An investigation was launched by UEFA but in the meanwhile, Slavia Prague and Ondrej Kudela were allowed to play both of their Europa League Quarter Final ties against Arsenal, in which they refused to take the now customary knee in support of anti-racism and Glen Kamara received incessant racial abuse from the Slavia Prague fanbase on various social media profiles. Charming.
UEFA eventually found Ondrej Kudela guilty of racially abusing Glen Kamara, and sentenced him to a 10 match ban from UEFA competitions which as of the 24th of April 2021, he is working to appeal against. Kamara also received a 3 match ban for violent conduct.
On the one hand, I agree that violence has no place in the sport and any disputes should be sorted out diplomatically; however, what is one really meant to do in such a situation? Being racially abused is easily one of the most degrading things a human being can go through, and being told how to react to it by the aggressor has to be considered laughable. By banning Kamara for his quite natural response to being racially abused, UEFA are insinuating that racism against any minority should be taken with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek seeing as natural human reactions are simply too unprofessional.
Furthermore, a 10 match ban is almost a lightweight sentence. Luis Suarez received a 10 match ban in 2013 for biting Branislav Ivanovic while at Liverpool, are UEFA suggesting both offenses are on par? The only reason racial abuse is so rampant in football is simply the lack of punishment. Understandably it’s hard to punish racial abuse incidents seeing as they are hypothetically “very damaging” things that could have “serious negative repercussions” and therefore should be analyzed and re-analyzed before concluding action, but if the ban is only 10 games what’s the big deal? If Kudela could easily appear in the knockout stages of the Europa League again next season, what’s the point? Clubs and players seem so afraid of being branded racist, yet when it actually does happen what are the real consequences? A slap on the wrist and a small timeout? All the effort to deny and prove innocence only for an innocuous ban and negligible fine?
The way governing bodies handle Racism in the sport has to change. In my opinion, the bans for racism should be issued in years and not matches. Maybe even lifetime bans should there really be “No Room For Racism.” Kudela should never be allowed to play UEFA football again. Cala should be banned for an entire season. Clubs should receive fines in the millions. It has to be made impossible or greatly costly to be racist, it’s quite literally the only way these people will learn.
I’ve only touched on two incidents in recent history but the list since the start of the season alone is ridiculous. Neymar, Pierre Webo, not to mention the online fan-related incidents of Reece James and Axel Tuanzebe. The action taken has to be sterner. Lifetime bans for players like Cala and Kudela are in order, and perhaps the confiscation of TV revenue for a certain amount of matches for the Clubs. Something to seriously impact these individuals and institutions because, in these light bans, unnecessarily extended investigations, and pretenses, governing bodies like UEFA and LaLiga are leaving room for racism.
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