Congratulations to Zambia for winning the Africa Nations Cup, but if Mr Sepp Blatter thinks there is no longer racism in football, he should only look at what Liverpool’s Luis Suarez did on Saturday 11 February.
So the African Cup of Nations (or AFCON) has ended. Good on Zambia, the eventual winners! But like most people who love African football, I tuned in to watch and support my national team, the Black Stars of Ghana. But I can’t believe how badly our boys played. The team lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.
Aside from being disappointed by the performance of the Black Stars, I was also angered by the attitude of the various commentators. I watched most of the games online. And when I did watch television, it was either ITV4 or Eurosport. And I tell you, the commentators online, on ITV4, Eurosport and I am told Radio France International, all sounded totally bored most of the time. When they did not sound bored, they seemed downright condescending.
I had to ask myself, were the commentators behaving this way because it was African football? I had heard commentators on games by European teams and they certainly sounded different. When commentating on games played by, say, Manchester United or Barcelona, European commentators sound alive and animated. They sound as if they are really into the game.
I mean, if the European commentators are not passionate enough about African football to make viewers excited with their commentary, is it not better to find and use African commentators? In Ghana, for example, we have the likes of Michael Katahene, Chris Opoku and the former BBC sports presenter Yaw Ampofo-Ankrah. I tell you, any one of these commentators would have done a much better job than the boring and seemingly disinterested European commentators we had to make do with. And I am sure there are many Michael Katahenes, Chris Opokus and Yaw Ampofo-Ankrahs across the African continent!
If stations such as ITV4 and Eurosport commit to showing African football, they must go the extra mile and find African commentators who can do a better job than the crop of commentators we are currently listening to. Or if that is too much for them, how about employing the likes of Mark Wright or Ian Wright? Surely they would have done a much better job than their European counterparts we were forced to listen to.
It was obvious that the stations and their commentators did not have enough respect for African football. Eurosport, for one, could not even deign to give us match analysis during half-time or even after the games. During almost all the matches, except the final, they just cut in during half-time to show some irrelevant and boring news/interviews about European football or skiing – at a time when their African viewers were glued to the TV and dying to see half-time or post-match analysis of the games they had just watched. Show Africa and Africans some respect, Eurosport! Or just pass on the chance to show the matches to other stations which will show us some respect!
Even the way they talked about the players was rude. For example, if a player was down as a result of a bad tackle, the commentators spoke as if the player was pretending. At one stage during the Ghana-Tunisia quarter-final game, a Tunisian player kicked Ghana’s Dede Ayew hard in the chest. Anybody watching would have felt the pain as if it had happened to them personally. But apparently not the Eurosport commentator! He saw absolutely nothing wrong in Dede Ayew being kicked in the chest in such a violent manner.
But I guess the attitude of the Eurosport and ITV4 commentators actually reflects how much racism there is in European football. Can you imagine, the FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, saying racism in football can be tackled by shaking hands and forgetting all about it? When questioned on CNN, this is what Blatter had to say: “I would deny it. There is no racism, there is maybe [the action of] 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, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands.”
Wow. If only it were that simple. Just ask the Liverpool striker Luis Suarez. After calling Manchester United’s Patrice Evra a “negro” (I am yet to come across a TV or radio station that has actually been brave enough to show or play the word as said by Suarez), he is said to have explained it away by saying that was what they call black people in his country – Uruguay.
On Saturday 11 February 2012, Suarez returned after an eight-game ban by the English FA only to refuse to shake Evra’s hand during the pre-match ceremony. So much for Mr Sepp Blatter!
But how stupid was Suarez in doing this? Really. After an eight game ban, the dignified thing to do would have been to shake hands as required and draw a line under the incident. Even Evra, the man who was racially abused, was ready to shake hands with his abuser, because that is what the game requires!
After his behaviour towards Evra, I was proud to see Rio Ferdinand, another black player, refuse to shake Suarez’s hand. Ferdinand said he has lost all respect for Suarez. “After seeing what he did, I decided I couldn’t shake his hand.” Good on you Rio.
I find it disgraceful that when asked about this, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish decided to play dumb and said something along the lines of “Is that what really happened? I did not see it.” How about something more proactive like “I did not personally see Suarez refuse to shake Evra’s hand. But if that indeed happened, I will look into it and make sure appropriate action is taken.” Something along those lines would have been more pleasing to the ear than what we were offered. Dalglish acted like the father of a criminal who gives a false alibi that his son was at home when really he knows the boy was out robbing. No wonder both Dalglish and Suarez were forced by Liverpool’s American owners to apologise. And they did – a bit shamefaced. Well, Evra can hold his head up with pride because he most certainly has come out looking like the better man.
Black players have contributed immensely to European football for years. From the glory days of George Weah playing for AC Milan to today’s crop of players, such as Didier Drogba, black players have long been a part of European football. So why, after all these years, are black players still not afforded the same respect as their white counterparts?
As I write, Chelsea’s John Terry has had his armband as England captain taken away because he (allegedly) racially abused Anton Ferdinand of Queen’s Park Rangers. Again, each time the incident is played back on television, the abusive word is concealed. Although Terry has yet to go to trial, the English FA (under pressure from the public and pressure groups) has decided to take away his captainship because they recognise that racism in any form should not be tolerated. They recognise that by letting Terry keep the armband, it would appear as if they condone racism.
According to Sepp Blatter: “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.” I wonder what planet Mr Blatter lives on! And why he is still the FIFA President. If he were African, they would say he liked to hold on to power forever. And other FIFA members would have found a way of removing him. One rule for Africans, another for all else!
Well, whatever efforts Blatter and FIFA think they are making to end racism in football, it is just not enough. Imagine being taunted either by your colleagues or fans every day. It is hurtful. It is not the right way to thank the various black players who have contributed so much to the growth of European football. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.