The History Of Racism In Football
The History Of Racism In Football

The Ozil incident is just the tip of a massive racist iceberg in football

It’s 2018 – the times our ancestors thought we’d be flying cars. Unfortunately enough, we’re still discriminating. The latest casualty of racism in international sport has been Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil, who quit his national team citing “racism and disrespect” within German football.


What exactly happened?

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Is racism in sport real?


Despite the Garman Football Association distancing itself from Ozil’s claims, the reality of racism in sport and especially football presents a different picture. The beautiful game’s anti-discrimination wing Kick It Out reported the largest number of complaints in the 2016-17 season (numbers are yet to be revealed for the 2017-18 campaign).

Issuing the details for incidents reported at all levels of the game last season, Kick It Out said it received 469 reports, an increase of 16.7% on the 402 reported in 2015-16.

Nearly half of these incidents 48% are related to race, 21% to HBT (homophobic, biphobic or transphobic) and 17% were faith-related. And while these are stats from only professional football, there are dozens of other such incidents taking place every day at grassroots level and amateur football.

Have there been previous such incidents?

A five-time German footballer of the year, Ozil is not the first big name to feel that “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

“If I score, I’m French … if I don’t, I’m an Arab”. In 2016, Karim Benzema was not picked for the Euros; he had blasted coach Didier Deschamps for bowing to pressure from a “racist part of France”.

“When things were going well, I was reading newspapers articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker. When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent,” he wrote in a Players Tribune article last month.

For those of you who still don’t believe racism is real in football, just look back at these unfortunate, recent high-profile incidents and then question yourself if your conscience allows you to sleep without raising a voice against them.

In a friendly match (Russia v France), at Saint Petersburg in April earlier this year, monkey chants were directed at members of the French team. The noises were picked up by television cameras and reported by photographers at the side of the pitch. As a result, “disciplinary actions have been opened against the Russian Football Union (RFU) for this incident,” a FIFA statement read.


In February earlier this year, Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi – who was on loan at Borussia Dortmund – says he was racially abused during Borussia Dortmund’s Europa League victory at Atalanta.

In February 2015, Chelsea fans were involved in an incident in which they pushed a black passenger off a Métro carriage at Richelieu-Drouot station in Paris before a Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain. The supporters were heard chanting: “We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.” Chelsea later suspended three people from attending Chelsea games pending further investigation.


In October 2011, Liverpool’s Luis Suárez racially abused Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Following FA’s seven-day hearing, Suárez was slapped with a £40,000 fine and banned for eight matches. He had used the word “negrito” towards Evra, meaning “little black man” in Spanish.

In April 2014, former Barcelona player Dani Alves was targeted by Villarreal fans, who threw a banana at him. Alves picked up the banana, peeled it, and took a bite. It became a viral campaign online with the likes of fellow Brazilian Neymar posting pictures of them eating bananas.

What is FIFA’s stance on racism?

As for the laws against racism, FIFA introduced a three-step procedure in 2017 that leaves the responsibility in the hands of the match officials should racist chanting — or any other signs of racist acts — occur during a game.

Primarily, referees have the authority to stop the match and request a public announcement calling for discriminatory behaviour to cease. If that fails, the referee can suspend the game until the behaviour stops, followed by another announcement, before officially abandoning the match if the situation continues, as per ESPN. 

Let us know what you feel about racism in football in the comments.

Featured image: Twitter/Ozil

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