On October the 2nd, Manchester City’s reigning player of the year, Bernardo Silva, was charged by UK’s highest football governing body, The FA, for an alleged racist tweet that he posted which compared his teammate Benjamin Mendy to a character that appears on the packets of Conguitos. The FA alleges that Silva’s tweet constituted of an “aggravated breach” of their social media rules by including a reference “to race and/or color and/or ethnic origin”. He now faces a 6-game ban if he is found guilty of discrimination. This latest incident allows us to reflect on an opening few months of the club season that have been fraught with occurrences of racial abuse towards players both on the pitch and online.
It didn’t take long for the first major occurrence of such abuse to plague Twitter this season. On August 14th, Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham missed a penalty in the UEFA Super Cup and was struck by a wave of online trolls after the match ended. Just 5 days later Paul Pogba was targeted, again for missing a penalty for his team Manchester United. Several other players have reported instances of online abuse including Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and Kurt Zouma, and it’s only getting worse. Just this weekend, Leicester City were forced to put out a statement condemning racist comments towards their midfielder Hamza Chaudhary, who had been targetted for putting in a rough tackle against Liverpool’s Egyptian forward Mohammad Salah.
Meanwhile, in Italy, Romelu Lukaku was audibly subjected to monkey chants by Cagliari’s home supporters. Cagliari was then fined 5000€ for throwing bottles on the pitch as the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) ruled that the chants were not discriminatory despite this hardly being Cagliari’s first offense. Pescara’s Sulley Muntari (2017) and Juventus duo Blaise Matuidi (2018) and Moise Kean (2019) have all been subject to racist chants at the hands of the Cagliari support. Perhaps the greater shock (and disappointment) was the reaction of the Internazionale fan club ‘Curva Nord’. They posted an open letter directed at their own player Lukaku, claiming that Cagliari fans were showing him a form of “respect”. They further defended Cagliari and Italian fans, “You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a REAL problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you, but it is not like that.”
“You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a REAL problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you, but it is not like that.”
Twitter video showing Romelu Lukaku being subjected to Monkey Chants in game against Cagliari.
It is important to note that this rise in attention doesn’t necessarily mean that there has been a rise in racism in football’s top leagues this year. Racism has existed in football for decades and there’s no reason to believe that this year it would all magically disappear. However, it has finally been getting the spotlight it deserves, starting with players being more empowered to speak out about the abuse they receive. England’s Raheem Sterling has been instrumental in inspiring this new-found freedom that players now have to speak about abuse and the effect it has on their confidence. His public calling out of UK’s tabloid newspaper’s double standards when it comes to their coverage of him earned him praise from many top professional players and he has now become the poster-boy of the fight against racism in football, taking up a role similar to the one of USA star Megan Rapinoe in the fight for equal pay in Women’s Football.
What can be done to combat the kind of abuse that we are seeing? The idea that games must be stopped in the case racist chants are heard on the pitch has been supported by many players and managers. This would obligate the perpetrators to then stop their abuse if they wanted to continue to watch them play. Additionally, clubs and football’s governing bodies are striving to be more adept at identifying the perpetrators and ban them from entering into their stadiums. Former Manchester City captain and Lukaku’s teammate for Belgium Vincent Kompany has also pushed for more diversity in positions of power in governing bodies like UEFA and FIFA, saying “The real racism exists in the fact that none of these institutions has representatives that can understand what Romelu is going through”.
“The real racism exists in the fact that none of these institutions has representatives that can understand what Romelu is going through”.
Meanwhile, no real progress has been made on solutions to tackle online abuse. Chelsea Football Club claimed to meet with Kick It Out, a UK based NGO that is devoted to ending discrimination, and Twitter after the discrimination faced by Tammy Abraham but no reports of such a meeting occurring exist. Many have called for Social Media executives to clamp down on abusive posts and comments, but no action that has been attempted has been successful so far.
What does this mean for Bernardo Silva? He was charged despite having the support of a vast majority of the global football community, including that of his teammate Raheem Sterling. Although Kick It Out said that his post was “discriminatory”, they only called for “mandatory education” and made no mention of suspension or a ban from games in their statement. A six-game ban would be considered harsh by many, yet The FA has already shown that they are willing to use Silva as an example of the no-leniency image they wish to project.