Racism is still very much prevalent in the world of football, but what is the best way to tackle it…?
Racism in football – and more specifically, how to react to it – has been making headlines again.
AC Milan’s Kevin Prince Boateng recently left the pitch along with his teammates after Pro Patria fans racially abused him, while Yuki Nakamura, a product of the Shimizu S-Pulse youth system, admitted a couple of weeks ago that he’d returned to Japan from Slovakia as a result of racist abuse.
“I often thought to myself ‘does this really happen in this day and age?’,” the 25-year-old wrote on his blog. “Before and after the game the supporters would hurl abuse at just me. None of my teammates helped. Some of them even seemed to side with them.”
Of course, Nakamura is far from being the first Japanese player to be targeted because of his race and Kyodo News – who were the first to give the story English-language coverage – revealed that a former Japan international had confided – on condition of anonymity – that he had been singled out while playing in Italy, including being forced to wear a yellow bib in training – an apparent jibe at his nationality.
Eiji Kawashima has also suffered with discrimination in the past 18 months, being taunted with chants of “Fukushima!” during a game, and being depicted in a mock-up on French TV as having four arms as a result of the nuclear disaster in Tohoku.
While not criticising Nakamura’s decision, the Standard Liege stopper suggested that the best way to deal with such abuse was to confront it head on.
“It is a pity that something happened like that, but, and this is just my opinion, Japanese players, not just players, Japanese people, have to be really tough in a foreign country. It is not easy,” he told Kyodo after Japan’s 3-0 defeat of Latvia.
“Living in Japan is really comfortable and really easy but you know when you go abroad the situation isn’t always the same. I now understand that people joke in a stupid way. Maybe the situation for him (Nakamura) was really tough and he was really alone. But we have got to be tough and if there is something wrong you have to stand against it.”
As a straight, white, English male I can hardly claim to have experienced any meaningful discrimination, although I was surprised at the difficulties I faced when trying to move apartment here on account of being a gaikokujin (for an alarmingly high number of Japanese people there seem to be just two countries in the world: ‘Japan’ and ‘Gaikoku’).
I protested to one rental agent that this was surely discrimination but he countered – with a completely straight face – that, “No, no. You see some foreigners, for example Koreans, make very smelly food which landlords don’t like.”
Such issues are small-fry compared to prolonged intimidation, but the point I am trying to make is that Japan, too, has issues with narrow-minded people, and in order to overcome racism of all forms Kawashima is right, these things should be tackled and not just brushed under the carpet. That isn’t to say that Nakamura was wrong to head home – only he knows how the abuse affected him – but the cycle should not just be tolerated.
The show of solidarity by Boateng’s Milan teammates is one way to make a stand, and while Nakamura’s passive colleagues may not have endorsed the abuse he was receiving, their lack of action to defend him does nothing to bring about a change in attitudes.
Not everybody has as much get-up-and-go as the Italian striker, but I’m fairly certain things would have been different if Nakamura had been playing alongside Boateng’s new teammate Mario Balotelli.
Telling ‘France Football’ of an incident when he was abused in a Rome bar the 22-year-old said, “There were two or three boys, and it was lucky that the police arrived quickly because, I swear, I would have beaten them.
“I would have really destroyed them. I hope it will not happen again because if someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them.”
Taking his approach literally is probably not productive, but perhaps a more assertive stance is the only way to truly kick racism out of the game.