You are here

Through the black lens: Racism in football

Copyrights: Brian Sikorski/Flickr

Through the black lens: Racism in football

Judith Macharia discusses the importance of accountability and diversity in professional football.

A good majority of discussions around sport are centered on its positive impact in our society. However, despite its positive nature, sport has been, and can be used to reinforce conflicts.  In recent times, there has been an alarming increase in racial abuse cases in the world of football. These abuses come in the form of racist chants in stadiums during matches, online racist abuse and the furthering of racist stereotypes against black players. This has been evident across most of the leagues in Europe and can be observed across actors at different levels, from the fans and referees to leaders.

It is important that we seek to understand the contextual factors that encourage these actions. Among them, is the lack of sensitisation and advocacy against racism in football which ultimately leads to its normalisation in the industry. Before his death last year, the Italian sociologist and writer Mauro Valeri noted over 80 abuse cases in a span of two seasons in the youth football league in Italy. Some cases involved children aged 12. He stated that the racial abuses in sport are a reflection of these societies, which explains their hesitance in dealing with it.

In early December 2019 the Italian Corriere Dello Sport newspaper ran the headline "Black Friday" on a story featuring Roma's Chris Smalling and Inter Milan's Romelu Lukaku. When questioned, the newspaper rejected the racism accusations, claiming it was innocent. A few weeks later, the Italian League launched an anti-racism campaign with posters depicting the faces of three monkeys. Quite recently, Moussa Marega of FC Porto who was also a victim of abuse was yellow carded for walking out of a match in protest against it. These responses, among others, expose the levels of insensitivity and dissonance to the nuances of racism and racial micro-aggressions.

Lack of diversity in the leadership of sports organisations is one of the main challenges in dealing with racism. Recognising that a large number of black players exist in most of these leagues, it is vital to have equally diverse representation in boardrooms and dug- outs. For example, only one of the 32 national team managers was black in the 2018 World Cup. Additionally, a study carried out in 2014 by FARE found that only 0.6% of senior governance positions and 0.4% of senior executive roles in European football were held by ethnic minorities. It is, therefore, important that respect for diversity is accorded right from the leadership. Better representation also ensures that efforts against these violations are strengthened.

The leniency of sports governing bodies in punishing offenders and teams involved downplays any efforts against racism. The rules stipulate that any players or officials guilty of racism are liable to a minimum of 10 games’ ban. Additionally, international teams or clubs whose fans engage in discriminatory actions are liable to point deduction, relegation or disqualification from a competition. However, none of these extreme measures have been applied. Some players who have been victims have resigned to taking action themselves. For example, Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling is setting up a taskforce in the Premier League to combat the growing abuse cases, while Paul Pogba launched an armband initiative that eradicates racial ignorance. This not only displays their determination, but the incompetency of the leadership in responding to the issues with the appropriate level of seriousness.

It will require the unified action of every sports stakeholder to fight against these violations. Great responsibility also lies on the legends of the game, to use their positions of influence in the football world and society to intensively condemn these acts in support of other players.

Judith Macharia is a sport for peace and development researcher.


Article type



Judith Macharia


Thursday, February 27, 2020 - 13:40