On Tuesday, April 2, racism once again walked onto the soccer field.
In the 85th minute of the Serie A match between Juventus and the Sardinian-based Cagliari, Moise Kean sealed the game with a composed right-footed strike on the ground, making it his fourth goal in four games, securing the win for Juventus.
As the ball crashed into the back net, he leapt over the defender and goalkeeper and planted in front of the opposing crowd. He opened his arms wide, and coldly stared into the faces to match the boos he faced for the previous 90 minutes. But they weren’t just boos.
Throughout the game, Kean — as well as his teammates Blaise Matuidi and Alex Sandro — had been the subject of racial abuse, including disgusting monkey chants. He handled it with absolute poise and class, though, standing up defiantly, proudly, confidently to the fans as he celebrated his nail-in-the-coffin goal. However, his teammate, defender and experienced leader of Juventus, Leonardo Bonuci, felt differently.
“Kean knows that when he scores a goal, he has to focus on celebrating with his teammates. He knows he could’ve done something differently too. There were racist jeers after the goal, Blaise [Matuidi] heard it and was angered,” Bonucci said.
“I think the blame was 50-50,” he went on. “We are professionals, we have to set the example and not provoke anyone.”
Bonuci engages in obvious and shameful victim-blaming here. Claiming that Kean provoked the audience to racism is beyond absurd, but what pains me more is that he says this to his own teammate, a 19-year-old player at that. To think that someone my age, only one month older than me in fact, is playing and excelling in one of the most competitive soccer leagues in the world but has to withstand such reprehensible actions by lovers of the same game is heartbreaking. But what disgusts me more is the notion that this problem has persisted and affected so many for so long.
In 2013, Ghanian midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng of Milan was pushed over the edge during a friendly match against a lower-Italian side and walked off the field, joined by his teammates and ending the game.
In 2014, Ghanian midfielder Sulley Muntari was abused by fans from Italian club Hellas Verona.
In 2017 again, Muntari was given a yellow card for reporting his own racial abuse by fans to the referee, also against Cagliari and proceeded to walk off the field in protest.
In late 2017 and early 2018, French midfielder Blaise Matuidi was verbally racially abused two separate times by fans, once at Hellas Verona, and once more at Cagliari. Only Verona was punished by the Serie A.
I am in awe at the level of restraint demonstrated by such a young player on such a big stage. Kean handled the racism with such decisive action that should be mimicked by the Serie A in handling and punishing those wrongdoers in this situation. Currently, there’s not enough authority-driven sense of punishment.
That same day, on April 2, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called on referees to be “brave” and stop matches of racial abuse. Despite that, the Juventus-Cagliari match was never stopped.
Since 2017, FIFA has implemented its “Say No to Racism” campaign, which allows referees to follow a three-strike procedure: they can first stop the match and request the discriminatory behavior cease, they can ask again and issue another suspension of the match and finally decide to abandon the match as a whole.
In the Muntari incident of 2014, the club Hellas Verona were fined only 50,000 euros and given a partial stadium ban. In the cases of Matuidi, action was only taken in the 2017 incident, with a 20,000 euro fine given to Hellas again.
This most recent example of racism against Kean is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for the Serie A to finally put a firm foot down on racism and to put an end to a history of such indecisive, weak countermeasures.
It’s an opportunity for players, specifically Italians, to understand the gravity of such an issue and the disgusting immorality of it.
It’s an opportunity to show fans exactly what respect actually means.
And lastly, it’s an opportunity for victims of such racial abuse to not feel afraid or unsupported to play the game they, and we, all love. And given that the Serie A postponed their decision as of today (while also fining Kean for diving), let’s hope they make the right call.
As long as racism is tolerated, it won’t go away. Italy, and the global soccer community, has a serious problem on its hands, perhaps the most pressing social issue connected to the sport. It’s not enough to simply take a stance on the issue. What players and fans must see is obvious signs of action and concrete consequences for immoral behavior.
That means harsh penalties and harsh fines. Soccer, like most things, comes down to money and instituting hefty financial punishments for repeated violations and failure to follow established guidelines is the best solution to a sick, culturally infused problem. Fans are representatives of clubs and punishing them might be the only way to attack this systemic issue.
Contributing columnist Shannon Chaffers has written a similar article about racism in sports beyond soccer, in which she discusses psychological effects of such harassment on players and how best to combat such an issue.
Italy is an ocean and some away, but soccer is a global love and a global community. Meeting a stranger and talking about this passionately shared love is an immediate bond. It’s happened to me here at Princeton too: I’ve been lucky enough to meet and play with others who support teams miles away with, in some cases, the same level of intensity as those sitting in the stands on matchday.
To watch or to play is truly a pleasure every time, but not when hate joins the game. Soccer, or any sport for that matter, is about respecting your opponent. And while that may be hard to get through the minds of every single fan in attendance, at the very least, players and league administration must confidently grasp this idea of basic human morality.
As much as #SayNoToRacism is popular and a step in the right direction, it’s not enough. Do something about it. Anything. And that goes for all parties involved.
Arman Badrei is a first-year from Houston, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.