‘I don’t look like a monkey’ – Yaya Toure
Harare – Ivorian international footballer, Yaya Toure, made headlines around the world last week, not for his exceptional football talents, but after being racially abused in Moscow during a UEFA Champions League tour of duty.
The Manchester City midfield powerhouse is not the first black footballer to be racially abused, and is unlikely to be the last, in a sport which Brazilian legend Pele called the most beautiful game in the world but has recently been tainted by the shameless works of a racist lot.
But there was a reason why the racial abuse on Toure, by a section of CSKA Moscow fans, created headlines around the globe and became one of the biggest talking points in the game last week.
Toure is not just another African footballer, he is the most prominent of footballers from the continent right now, has won the last two African Footballer of the Year awards and was captain of Manchester City that night in Moscow.
And that is not all. Russia will host the 2018 World Cup finals and, if the best African players can be targeted for racism, in its stadiums in such high-profile matches like the UEFA Champions League, then it should strike fear for black players when they go there, in just five years’ time, to celebrate the greatest football festival on earth.
Maybe, that is why even FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, is angered by what happened to Toure in Moscow on October 23, 2013. “If we are not able to go zero-tolerance, we have failed,” Blatter told guests at a football association function in London last week.
Or, maybe the prospects of all African teams withdrawing from the 2018 World Cup finals, and their black counterparts who have filtered through into a number of European teams also boycotting in solidarity, has shaken the FIFA president.
But while Blatter was raging in London, it is difficult for those who want to see racism wiped out of football to trust him. After all, this was the same man who two years ago sparked an outrage around the globe when he told CNN that he did not believe there was racism in football and players should be able to resolve the issue with a handshake.
“I would deny it. There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that,” Blatter said then.
“He should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.
“I think the whole world is aware of the efforts we are making against racism and discrimination. And on the field of play sometimes you say something that is not very correct, but then at the end of the game, the game is over and you have the next game where you can behave better.”
A stunned world piled on the criticism on Blatter with some asking him to step down and such was the intensity of the criticism that the FIFA boss was forced to issue a public apology, which probably explains why he had now decided to take a tough line on racism.
Toure raised the prospects of black players boycotting the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia in media comments in the wake of the monkey chants that greeted his every touch during Manchester City’s Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow.
“If we are not confident coming to the World Cup in Russia, we don't come,” Toure told reporters. “I don't know why it happens in football. I don't know why you don't get something like this in rugby or handball or any other sport.
“If UEFA don't take action, it will continue. A couple of months ago my friend played with Milan and he had the same problem. I hope they do something ‑ ban the club or the stadium for two years.
“The club may say they have to educate the fans but it's not enough. Too much is too much. We have to stop it now.”
“We are all humans. It is not a nice feeling to go and play a football match ‑ to bring joy to the people ‑ and to be called a monkey or to hear monkey noises.
I don't look like a monkey. That's what disappoints me so much.” In June this year, six fans of Italian fourth-tier division football club, Pro Patria, were given jail sentences, ranging from 40 days to two months, for racially abusing Kevin Prince Boateng during a friendly match against former European champions AC Milan in January.
Boateng, a Ghanaian international who holds German dual citizenship, was one of the black players in the AC Milan team targeted for racial abuse in that match with Sulley Muntari, Urby Emmanelson and M’Baye Niang, also at the receiving end of intense abuse.
But Boateng decided that enough was enough, after about 25 minutes, took off his shirt, held the ball and kicked it into the stands which housed the fans that were abusing him, before walking off the pitch.
His white AC Milan teammates joined him in the walkout, in solidarity, in a gesture that was cheered by many international footballers around the world sickened by the way racism continues to stalk the game. Boateng is now a member of the FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force.