Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Football Racism: End Not In Sight
Recently Real Betis midfielder Nosa Igiebor recounted his encounter in the hands of racists in Spain.
The 23-year-old expressed disbelief and shock at the high level of racism in the European country after spells in Norway with Lillestrom and Israel with Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Igiebor, who joined Betis in 2012 told the BBC, "For me I never thought about it (racism), as I never experienced it in Norway. I went to Israel and never experienced it. So I thought okay, it is the same everywhere.
"But I came here (Spain) and I saw these fans. If you play badly they scream and shout, but with the blacks it is different. They tend to call you names. I have seen my teammates who killed us in a game and nobody is saying anything about it because they are white.
"When I came here, that is when I knew there was racism in football. I never knew it before. I think FIFA or anybody should do something about it, because we all are human beings. Your colour does not really matter. Let us just play football and enjoy it."
Last year, Igiebor was racially abused by his own fans as he warmed-up for the derby clash with Seville.
The Nigerian replied the fans by coming off the bench to score Betis's third goal as they drew 3-3 after going down 3-0.
And then he celebrated his goal by raising the middle finger on both hands towards the fans.
"It is an experience which really I do not want to remember," the 23-year-old continued. "I do not want to talk about it, but I am going to share it now as it might help some other players. The coach asked me to warm up, and I went there with three other white guys.
"We were down 3-1 at that time, and there were these two guys who started shouting 'Nosa black monkey, Negro', those kind of words. They started screaming at me. I was wondering 'what have I done?'
"I had not even been on the field. You start to think, because you are black, why are they not telling these three guys the same thing they are telling me.
"I felt really bad. Emotionally I was down, if I could say to my coach do not put me (in) I would say (it), but I cannot. They were screaming and calling me all sorts of names.
"The coach then called me to go in and play. And when I scored that goal I ran to that same spot where those two guys were standing and I saw them and I did what I did."
Igiebor regretted his action afterwards but he admitted that he felt frustrated after the fans abused him.
"I did it out of annoyance and bitterness and anger in me," he added.
"I thought of it later and I should not have done it. But I did it at that point in time as I was frustrated.
"Why are they calling me Negro, black, monkey? This is what we are talking about, this racism in football. You do not do it. (Mario) Balotelli said it, other black guys have said it. We experience these things, you understand, and at the point in time you cannot control yourself. I am sorry for it."
Racist abuse of black players remains a major issue across Europe and Nigerian players have not been spared over the years.
In 2006, Adebowale Ogungbure was spat upon, jeered with racial remarks and mocked with monkey noises by fans as he left the pitch in a game between his club FC Sachsen Leipzig and Hallescher FC.
In rebuke, he placed two fingers under his nose to imitate a Hitler mustache and thrust his arm in a Nazi salute.
Ogungbure was accused and reported by German police but criminal proceedings against him were dropped 24 hours later.
Stoke City forward Osaze Odemwingie was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to a Nigerian father and a Russian mother.
Four years ago, Odemwingie joined EPL side West Bromwich Albion from Russia's Lokomotiv Moscow. But Lokomotiv fans unfurled racist banners targeted at the player. One banner included the image of a banana and read, "Thanks West Brom."
But Odemwingie was welcomed by West Brom supporters with their own banner spelling out their support for the striker.
Players of Nigerian descent, who pledged loyalties to other countries have not been left out of the racist abuse as well.
One of the most hit is the American defender Oguchi Onyewu. He was punched in the face and shouted at by racist fans while playing for Standard Liege in Belgium.
But the most publicised incident involving the big defender occurred in the 2008/09 season, when Anderlecht defender Jelle Van Damme, allegedly repeatedly called him a "dirty ape."
Van Damme denied the accusation, saying Onyewu taunted him in a racist way by calling him "dirty Flemish."
In an effort to end on-field racism in Europe, Onyewu sued Van Damme but the case was withdrawn in 2011 after a meeting between the two players that had Van Damme apologising.
Former Super Eagles defender, Taribo West, also recalled his plight in the hands of racists across Europe. The Olympic gold medalist had a glorious European career that spanned 13 years playing in the big leagues of Italy, Germany, France, England and Yugoslavia.
He however insists that racism cannot be totally eliminated.
"When I was playing in Europe, I was very popular. In Italy, the fans would sing with my father or mother's name; they would insult my parents. While on the pitch, if you came close to them, maybe on the sideline, they would throw bananas at you; they would throw water at you. We endured all that. I don't think it will change; racism will continue to be there," West said.
"I remember one game in Italy against Fiorentina and the whole fans were waiting for me. It was Taribo West against Fiorentina that day. If you touch the ball they will stone you, abuse you and boo you. If you don't have a big heart, you will run away. I said, 'today na today.' If you criticise and challenge me, it brings out the best in me.
"I ended my contract with Kaiserslautern in Germany because of racism. I couldn't stop it, I couldn't adjust to it. You will go to shops to buy something and you can see what you want to buy but they will tell you it's not there. The seller will tell you they don't have it and they don't sell it just because he is a racist and doesn't want to sell for blacks.
"It's all over Europe. It's very strong in Italy, very strong in Germany. It's mild in England and France. Holland is also mild because of the large number of blacks there. It's in Yugoslavia but I didn't face much there."
And the former AC Milan and Inter Milan centre-back now turned pastor, had to fight to earn some respect until he became born again.
He added, "I used to fight everyday in training. When I wasn't born again, I didn't know how to manage it. So, what I did was to fight.
"When I became born again, I began to forgive but it was still not easy. I was still hitting them. If you touch me, I will hit you twice. The whole team knew it; if you do anything funny, I will avenge. So, that kept me going and I built a reputation that you couldn't mess up. That made them to be afraid of me. That was how I dealt with the issue, until I left the scene."
West disclosed that African players even had to form a 'strong union' to tackle the malaise in his early days at French side Auxerre.
"Racism was very common in my time but now FIFA and UEFA are taking measures against it because of complaints from the coloured players. In some teams, if you like play more than (Diego) Maradona, you will not be picked. They don't care what you play; nobody will even look at you.
"So, we had a union of African footballers then; it was very strong. George Weah was president and we held meetings regularly and we discussed issues. We donated money to help Africans.
"In France, we used to see regularly: we had members that included me, Weah, Roger Milla, Rigobert Song and other key African players. But when we moved from France, we couldn't follow it up the way we used to. So, I don't know how it eventually went."
Ex-Eagles defender, Abdul Sule, says racism has killed the careers of several black players, who couldn't manage the abuses they received.
"I didn't witness it but while in Greece, I had to leave the scene of a racist incident because I didn't want to be embarrassed. A white guy was using racist words against a black guy and I had to leave.
"It kills the players' morale. When people who should support you are calling you names, it's hard to play. When you come to the pitch, you will begin to think negatively and this has affected the careers of several players," the former Stationery Stores player said.
Head, Technical Department of the Nigeria Football Federation, Chris Green, said the football body would back any of the country's players racially abused.
"When such things as racism are target towards them, they (players) should report to us (NFF). If they report the matter, we will take it up with the FA of the player's club and FIFA. We will not fold our hands and watch our players abused racially," Green stated.
"The boy is in Betis to render services. They employed him not because of his colour but because he could get the job done. We tell our players that they once played here before they left for Europe. So, if anything happens to them, a single mail will do the trick and we will investigate the matter and take it up."
Narrow is the way to success, so says a parable. West believes racism is one of the challenges a black player will face on his way to stardom and like he did during his time, he advises them to fight their way through, still insisting thjat racism will never end.
"They have to be very strong; they can't change it. It's something they have to pass through before they hit the limelight. They should be focused. Sometimes it could be painful but they have to live with it like I did."
Europe is a huge attraction for up-and-coming Nigerian footballers but they must realise that racism is probably one of the tough battles they have to battle to carve a niche for themselves.