In a November 2011 interview with CNN, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, then the eighth president of the International Federation of Association Football, more recognized as FIFA, the nominal governing body of soccer, asserted there was minimal to no racism in the sport, which was an utterly ridiculous and implausible view. More bluntly, a big fat lie!
He put forth this pronouncement amidst numerous incidents of racial animus toward Black, Arab and other players of color in multiple countries on the pitch by opposing players, as well as verbal and physical abuse from fans, including the throwing of bananas from the stands. “I would deny it,” Blatter said when asked by interviewer Pedro Pinto of CNN World Sport.
“There is no racism,” he continued, “there is maybe one of the players towards the other, 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 it’s a game, we are in a game.
“At the end of the game, we shake hands, this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.” In other words, Blatter, sounding every bit like a negationist, or an adroit public relations spin doctor, the latter of which he was before becoming the president of Switzerland-based FIFA, argued that if there was indeed racism in soccer, the victims should just accept it as a normal part of competition.
The epilogue reads that in 2015, Blatter was booted out of office amid a criminal investigation of him and other FIFA officials by the United States government and Swiss authorities for allegations of corruption. The now 85-year-old was subsequently banned from FIFA activities until 2027. Fast forward 10 years from 2011 to this past weekend.
In a thrilling finish to the European Football Championship tournament on Sunday at the famed Wembley Stadium in London, pitting Italy against England, three Black players for England––Marcus Rashford, Jadon Malik Sancho and Bukayo Saka––all missed crucial penalty kicks after extended time saw a 1-1 tie and Italy went on to defeat England 3-2 in a penalty shootout.
What followed was a torrent of racial venom on social media platforms directed toward Rashford, 23, Sancho, 21 and Saka, 19. Rashford, a star forward for Manchester United of the English Premier League, has received widespread praise and official honors for his work with FareShare, one of the United Kingdom’s largest charities, in raising funds to provide food, healthcare and other necessities to children and adults during the COVID-19 crisis.
A mural of Rashford in the city of Manchester was vandalized hours after England’s loss. It has since been restored as an outpouring of empathy and disgust has permeated the U.K. expressing solidarity with Rashford, Sancho and Saka.
“Three lads who were brilliant all summer had the courage to step up & take a pen when the stakes were high,” tweeted England’s team captain Harry Kane. “They deserve support & backing not the vile racist abuse they’ve had since last night. If you abuse anyone on social media you’re not an @England fan and we don’t want you.”
Like many athletes in various sports around the world, players for England, Black and white, began taking a knee before the start of matches last year to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May of 2020. They continued the silent demonstrations to clusters of fans booing during the European Championships.