Archive | January, 2010

Eto’o’s response to the Zaragoza incident

17 Jan

In the next video, Eto’o discusses the events that took place at Zaragoza and tries to explain his reaction. He also comments on what he believes governing bodies such as FIFA and UEFA should do to combat racism in football.

In terms of the Zaragoza incident, Eto’o reveals that he doesn’t regret walking off the pitch. He explains that he was comforted by his teammates and the referee who came over and said, “Samuel, you are a great player and you represent a lot for football. The only thing you have to do is get two goals and it’s finished.” This is a classic example of the argument that an athlete should get on with it and prove their worth on the field. It is implied that a spectacular performance will win over the crowd and uproot the seeds of racism in the minds of those who are so un-evolved that they are still making monkey noises. It’s a tricky situation because on the one hand to walk off the field is to give them exactly what they want while to stay on the field requires an almost inhuman amount of courage and strength. After the match Eto’o was rightfully upset about the incident and spoke to the press about it. He was unprepared for the response that he would receive. The press failed to come to his aid, instead, they tried to shoot him down, as if he was making too much of it. Not only is he supposed to shut his ears to the racist chants but he is expected to shut his mouth afterwards and act as if nothing happened. Despite all of this, Eto’o seems confident in his decision to stay on the pitch and get on with it but comments that, “I don’t regret it but part of me hopes that one day someone will manage to walk off the pitch.”

In the video Eto’o brings up a number of important points which I would like to address in further detail. One of which is that he recognizes that there needs to be solidarity between those who are being subjected to racism. That the players themselves must step forward and refuse to tolerate intolerance any longer. It is a realization that the governing bodies of domestic leagues and international football are slow to respond and unwilling to take a firm stance against racism. The Spanish Football Federation has fined Real Zaragoza a laughable £6000. There is undoubtedly a great deal of politics involved in all of this, most of which I can’t pretend to understand. What I do know is that football is a business and the penalties in place such as having to play home games in empty stadiums or being penalized points (for league rankings) is bad for business. Simply put, money talks. There are rules in place to discipline clubs, whose fans hurl racist chants, and to punish individuals within the football world who are found guilty of racism. Sepp Blatter, at the helm of FIFA has taken what he considers to be a firm stance against racism. However, seldom are these rules enforced and often times they come in the form of a slap on the wrist rather than a kick in the balls.

His coach’s response:

Samuel Eto’o’s decision to get on with the game was largely influenced by his friend and teammate Ronaldinho and his coach Frank Rijkaard. They both rushed to his side when he started to head off the pitch and talked him into continuing. Frank Rijkaard, a black Dutchman of Surinam origin, knows what it is to be taunted.  As a player, he was sent off at the 1990 World Cup after spitting at Germany’s Rudi Völler, who it is believed racially insulted him. One would assume that Rijkaard would sympathize with Eto’o’s frustrations as he could personally relate to them. To the contrary, Rijkaard released a press statement after the incident that claimed that, “The more you talk about it, the more you get the possibility that certain people will react on it.” He trivialized the issue and equated abuse from the stands to songs about a player’s individual characteristics. “If someone is quite tall the people will sing songs about his height. We don’t have to overreact. You just have to do your job,” Rijkaard said. This is a surprising stance from a man who is famous in part for being shown a red card for reacting to racial insults rather than letting them slide. His final comment was that black players should “get on with their work”. I have a feeling that the work he is referring to is more than just helping their team win championships but rather helping win over the hearts and minds of those who still believe that blacks are inferior to whites.


Samuel Eto’o nearly leaves the pitch

9 Jan

Samuel Eto’o, originally from Cameroon is one of the most celebrated strikers in European club football. He has won numerous awards, including African Player of the Year three years in a row (2003-2005), UEFA Champions League Best Forward in 2006, and will certainly be a player to watch in the upcoming World Cup in South Africa. Eto’o was a member of Barcelona FC from 2004-2009 (recently traded to Inter Milan) during which time he contributed to the growth in popularity and prestige that Barcelona currently enjoys around the world. While he certainly proved himself on the field he was unable to win over a certain demographic of Spanish football supporters. Eto’o admitted that he had periodically received racist insults from fans as he played matches in La Liga. A clear indicator of Eto’o’s perception of racism in the stands is that he prefers that his children don’t attend his matches. He was quoted in 2007 saying, “At this moment in time I prefer my children don’t go to football matches. In the stands they have to listen to things that are difficult to explain to a child. It is better they aren’t exposed to it.”

The tipping point occurred at a match against Real Zaragoza in 2006. Zaragoza fans had been harassing Eto’o throughout the match, making monkey noises each time he touched the ball. About thirty minutes into the first half he decided that he had had enough and began to walk off the pitch. The video below shows what happens when he tries to walk off the pitch. He looks quite incensed and pushes the referee and other players away as they try to calm him down. He keeps mouthing the words “No Mas” which means no more in Spanish.

I can’t help but think that the situation is handled makes him look a bit like a child throwing a tantrum in the video. Players and trainers surround him and implore him to be “reasonable” and to put an end to his little tirade. They even pat him on the head as he goes back onto the field to get on with it. I found their way of dealing with the situation somewhat frustrating because I thought that Eto’o’s actions were far from being a childish outburst and took great deal of courage. He was ready to walk off the pitch, unwilling to allow himself to be the target of racist abuse any longer, and ready to take a stand for all players that are forced to play in hostile environments. His decision to stay on the field can be viewed in two different ways. On the one hand it can be seen as an act of submission, a victory for the racist fans. On the other hand it can be interpreted as an act of defiance, he chose to battle on and to help his club on the field (incidentally, one of his passes to Larrson resulted in a goal.)

At the end of this first video Eto’o reveals his confusion about one of the grave contradictions of racism in contemporary football. Alvaro, one of Real Zaragoza’s players is standing next to Eto’o and Eto’o turns to face the crowd and points at Alvaro’s hand. Alvaro clearly has some amount of African in his blood and Eto’o appears to be asking the crowd why they are hurling racist abuse at him because of the color of his skin while players like Alvaro remain unscathed. This is a difficult question to grapple with and may even be larger than the scope of this blog. An overly simplistic explanation is that fans adore black players on their own teams but hate black players on other teams. However, players like Mario Balotelli, Eto’o’s new teammate in Italy disprove this theory because they have received a substantial amount of racist abuse from their own club teams. The question of how some players are able to transcend the color of their skin and become more than a “black player” will be revisited.