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Racism in football: Let’s talk about it

We like to turn a blind eye and pretend it isn’t there, but we need to address this head-on.

Paris Saint Germain v Istanbul Basaksehir - UEFA Champions League Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images

This is but a small Newcastle United site. We cover everything and anything involving our beloved Newcastle United. As a club, we have combatted our own demons with racism, workers’ rights, and treatment of players. These aren’t easy conversations, but when had they contribute to the growth of the not only the individual, but the institution and the organization.

What happened during the Paris Saint-Germain vs Istanbul match is hard to talk about. On one end, you have people playing down the statement, “the black guy” and “the black one” these are merely identifiers they say. On the opposite end, you have people stating that their race should not be their identifier. The issue here is that neither is wrong, but our handling of diversity needs to change.

The argument made by former Newcastle United player and current Istanbul star, Demba Ba, was that you would never see the referee make the statement, “the white guy” or the “white one”. He’s pretty accurate. White people do not usually have to worry about their race being what defines them. I would be identified as the “short one” more than I would be “the white guy”. People of different races often struggle with stereotype threat, and they fear that the color of their skin and their race is going to be the only thing that others see about them. This isn’t fair to them, and everyone must be cognizant of that fear and understand that they aren’t tiptoeing around someone’s feelings but respecting their identity.

What football has done to combat racism is merely state that it has no place in the institution. While that’s great, what we have not seen is UEFA, FIFA, or other footballing institutions begin to take active steps to not only stomp out racism, but institute education within their organizations to learn how to handle the diversity of their own sport. By taking a colorblind approach, these organizations are not only failing their players, but failing their fans.

You don’t have to be “colorblind” to fight racism. You must acknowledge the diversity around you and learn how to handle that diversity, so all parties feel welcomed and less threatened. In a world which people attempt to ignore their biases, they’re doing less to eliminate them completely.

When we build relationships with people, we learn boundaries, and that’s often through trial and error. My friends could never know how I would feel about something unless I let them know. And I often won’t be able to let them know until that boundary is crossed. We often think that our actions are unbiased or are done with no intent to harm. The referee obviously made those comments in accordance with those values. He may not have intended to single out Pierre Webo negatively when red carding him. But without knowing, that is precisely what he did. The officials had no training on how to handle diversity in the game, and because of that, he said he said without understanding the repercussions and the hurt that it would cause another individual. The referee has now learned that boundary, but also faces steep penalties for learning it.

This can be avoided. If only governing football bodies began instituting more diversity-based education for its workers and especially its officials who should be on the front lines of eliminating racism on the pitch. These governing bodies have to actually acknowledge race and diversity in order to actually begin to take steps fighting racism. The “colorblind” approach is a non-starter, and will only continue to lead to events such as the one we’ve discussed here today.