Arsenal are investigating a Snapchat video taken from the stands during Thursday night’s Europa League match with Napoli, in which a fan can be heard yelling the n-word at defender Kalidou Koulibaly. The video also had the n-word written across the screen for at least part of the duration.
Racism and racist behavior is utterly unacceptable anywhere, in any context - at matches, in the parking lot, on public transportation, on social media. Anywhere. As an Arsenal fan, but more importantly, as a human being, I am angry, embarrassed, and ashamed. We, as a society, have to do better. Kalidou Koulibaly and every other footballer should be able to do his or her job in peace, and without regard for the color of their skin, their place of birth, or any sort of “othering” characteristic that ignorant idiots use to divide us.
Thursday night’s racist incident isn’t the first time Koulibaly has been the target of abuse this season. Inter Milan fans aimed monkey chants at him in December, leading Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti to seek the suspension of the match and, after the match, to threaten to take his side off the pitch if it happened again. If he had heard the abuse at the Emirates on Thursday and had taken Napoli off the pitch, I would be supporting that decision 100%.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, also the target of racism at the Emirates this season, was asked after the match about the recent increase of reported incidents of racism at matches.
I am really disappointed about that. I had the same problem here against Tottenham. When you are black like me it is really painful, I think, because we are in 2019 and obviously it is not good for football in England. Hopefully we will find a way to kick it out.
I’d like to call attention to Aubameyang saying “it is really painful.” I believe him when he tells us that it hurts, and you should too.
We have a tendency to view racism as this nebulous, bad thing that happens to others, and which falls under the general category “Is Bad”. But we don’t often stop to think about what “bad” feels like when you have to internalize it. When you read about a racist incident, remember Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang’s quote. Racism has a real effect on real people. Racism hurts.
Arsenal issued a statement to Sky Sports about the racism on display in the video.
We utterly condemn the use of any racist language and have launched an investigation to identify the culprit. We operate a zero tolerance approach, and anyone behaving like this is not welcome at Arsenal and will be banned from matches. We have an extremely diverse community of fans who are all part of the Arsenal family and such incidents are rare at Emirates Stadium. We encourage supporters to report any incidents as they happen to stewards or via our matchday alert service.
I hope this isn’t lip-service — the club saying what it is supposed to say when racism happens. I want the club to follow through on that zero tolerance approach. I hope Arsenal identifies the culprit and bans them from the Emirates for a long, long time.
But I also want to call Arsenal out for saying “such incidents are rare at Emirates Stadium.” Sure, it is a Good Thing that the club is striving to create a positive, inclusive atmosphere and that, supposedly, racist incidents don’t happen all that often. But there is an important difference here, and that is the difference between “incidents are rare” and “incidents are rarely reported.”
I’d venture to guess that the latter is closer to the truth. How many times in your life have you heard someone you don’t know at the next table or in a nearby group of people say something offensive / discriminatory / racist? Did you call it out or let it go? Just because we don’t hear about it, and just because it’s not overt, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
There is also an implied comparison here that suggests the Emirates and Arsenal fans are better than other stadiums and other fans at not being racist. But is “less racist” really what we should be aiming for? How about “not at all racist”? That seems like the bare minimum Arsenal should be working towards. The use of comparison and relative terminology runs the risk of fostering complacency.
Finally, although I cannot confirm from firsthand experience because I don’t live in London nor do I regularly attend Arsenal matches, I am told by people that I trust that supporters still make hissing sounds and direct other anti-Semitic epithets towards Tottenham and Spurs supporters every time our North London rivals visit the Emirates. So let’s be real. Arsenal and the Emirates still have plenty of work to do.
As previously mentioned, Thursday’s incident isn’t the first widely publicized instance of racism at the Emirates. Heck, it wasn’t even the first instance of the day on Thursday. A few hours before kickoff, video circulated of Chelsea fans chanting “Mo Salah is a bomber” in a bar in Prague before the Blues’ match against Slavia Praha. He wasn’t playing for Chelsea’s opponent on the day, isn’t even in the same competition, and isn’t even in the same country as the supporters, but they still racially abused him.
Thursday’s abuses are two more in a disturbing, ever-lengthening list of unacceptable behavior across the footballing world. Last week it was Juventus’ Moise Kean being abused. The week before that it was Raheem Sterling being abused in Montenegro on England duty. Tottenham Ladies player Renee Hector has been racially abused online since reporting that a Sheffield United player (who has since been sacked) made monkey noises at her DURING A MATCH.
Do you see a trend here? These aren’t isolated incidents. This is a systemic problem. Things aren’t getting better. In fact, they are probably getting worse. Racism is a massive, massive problem in football, has been for years, and will continue to be until and unless we do more to actively combat it.
On our side of things, both here at TSF and as part of the larger soccer community, I wonder what more we, you and I, can do. Every time something happens we decry it, write our stories about how racism has no place in the game, and make all the rights sounds, but then the news cycles on, and racism in football fades from our conscious thoughts.
Clearly that isn’t getting the job done. Whether it takes days, weeks, or months, we find ourselves back at square one, writing about how racism (or homophobia, or sexism, or any other type of discrimination) has no place in football.
And so I ask you this: when you’re done reading this, take a few minutes to think about something concrete that you can do to make your corner of the soccer world a better, more tolerant place. I’d also recommend this article that takes a deeper, longer look at racism in English football and would ask that you pay particular attention to the examples and discussion of racism at the lower levels of the game. The problem isn’t exclusive to the upper echelons of soccer. It’s probably happening at the pitch down the street from your house. And you can do something about that.
Even if that something isn’t a call out and a confrontation, there are things you can do. Encourage diversity and inclusion at the administrative levels of your local club. Listen to and believe people when they talk about their experiences with racism and discrimination. Understand that you don’t have all the answers and ask somebody else what they might be.
Oh and as an afterthought, one last note to the racist Arsenal supporter, whoever you are. Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the most promising young defenders in Europe, and is a rumored Arsenal transfer target. I have no idea how legitimate the rumor is, nor where Koulibaly’s head is at as far as his desire to move, but there is a real chance he is less likely to come to the Emirates now, and that is because of your actions. Great job harming the club you supposedly love, moron.