International showcase tackling racism for FIFA
By Nancy Armour The Associated Press
BERLIN —; U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley has heard the ugly words, vicious taunts screamed by fans in Holland simply because he is black.
Cameroon’s brilliant Samuel Eto’o was so sickened by insults hurled his way that he threatened to walk off the field.
Even Thierry Henry, one of the world’s best players and a spokesman for racial tolerance, has been stung by a slur —; from Spain’s coach, no less.
Soccer has struggled for years to rid itself of racism. For this World Cup in Germany, which opens today with two matches, the governing body of the world’s sport is making harmony a central theme.
"Football, like most sports, is combative —; you play to win. But it shouldn’t have anything to do with racism or violence," said Federico Addiechi, head of a FIFA division that deals with corporate social responsibility. "The problem will not disappear in a couple of days in the World Cup, but it’s important to highlight the problem when you have such a platform."
German officials who don’t want racist thugs to seize that platform have planned extensive security measures following recent attacks on minorities here. FIFA is trying to do its part, making its message of tolerance a theme at matches and highlighting its commitment at a news conference prior to kickoff.
Earlier this year, FIFA president Sepp Blatter could barely hide his disappointment when he said: "It is a shame for football that in the year 2006, you still have racism."
The 32-nation competition attracts fans from all over the globe —; soccer is the most cosmopolitan sport in the world, played in every corner of the Earth. Even researchers at the South Pole play an occasional game.
Angola’s team, the Black Antelopes, helped bring together warring sides during a brutal 27-year civil war. Ivory Coast’s trip to Germany helped restart peace talks between rebels and the government.
That kind of harmony doesn’t always extend to fans, whose passionate enthusiasm too often can be tinged with racial hatred.
Hooligans, who don’t care who they beat up, get much of the attention, with violence marring both the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship. But as more black and mixed-race players appear in far-flung European leagues, racism is becoming even more pervasive.
In the last year: Eto’o, who stars for Spanish power Barcelona, could be seen mouthing "no more" after being taunted in February with monkey sounds for a second year by Zaragoza fans. The team was fined $10,700, but that didn’t stop Santander fans from insulting Eto’o two months later.
Ivory Coast and Messina defender Marc Zoro was reduced to tears by racist slurs and boos last November from Inter Milan fans.
Criticizing an influx of foreign players in Ukraine, national coach Oleg Blokhin said youngsters should learn from native sons, "not some zumba-bumba whom they took off a tree, gave him two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian league."
Ghana hired a Serbian coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, who was later quoted as saying that "discipline is the biggest problem with black Africans." Ghana officials refused to fire him.
AS Roma played its Feb. 8 home game at a neutral site and without spectators as punishment for its fans displaying Nazi and fascist symbols in a match against Livorno.
"You look at FIFA and you wonder if they’re doing enough, or if they’re doing anything at all," said Beasley, the American star who has been harassed while playing for PSV Eindhoven. "But at the same time, I look at it as what more can they do? Who do you suspend? Do you suspend the team? Do you suspend the club as a whole? Do you suspend that one fan?"