COMMENT By Prince Narkortu Teye Follow on Twitter
Sulley Muntari’s one-match ban for protesting racial chanting during a Serie A game last weekend may have been overturned, but the founder and general secretary of the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana Anthony Baffoe has told Goal that more measures must be put in place to fight racism in football.
The former Black Stars international has also criticised the actions of Muntari’s club Pescara, but has praised the midfielder’s reaction in the face of his abusers.
“In my opinion, racism will never stop,” Baffoe told Goal. “All we, the black race, want is respect.
“There’s only one human race but it doesn’t seem like that. You don’t need to be my friend, you don’t need to like me, but I want respect.”
Last weekend’s incident with Muntari not only reopened wounds of racism in European—and specifically Italian—football, but also exposed the Italian Football Federation’s inability to handle such a pivotal issue with sensitivity and foresight, with the Ghanaian’s one-match suspension after picking up two yellow cards initially upheld.
Eventually, Muntari got the justice he deserved when the ban was overturned on Friday, but that was only after FIFPro, Kick It Out, the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights and the Italian Footballers’ Union—not to mention the weight of public opinion—had pressured FIGC into changing their mind.
“The decision was important taking into consideration all the work behind the scenes,” Baffoe added. “We, the PFAG, worked with the world players’ union, we worked with the Italian players union but we were baffled that Pescara didn’t appeal the decision.
“In the future, we’ll have observers, like match commissioners, for racism and discrimination.”
Baffoe also applauded Muntari’s decision to abandon the match, and cited various African players over the years who reacted in differing ways in the face of racist abuse.
“I must laud and congratulate Sulley Muntari for having character for the action taken; he’s a great player with character to have stood his ground and walked off the pitch,” Baffoe continued. “There was a racist incident against Marco Zoro, the Ivorian player who was then playing in Italy; he wanted to walk off but the players stopped him.
“Then there was also Samuel Eto’o, who walked off and came back. That was also significant because he had to set the signal. He was a world class player and everybody would [listen to him].
“There was also Kevin-Prince Boateng’s issue; his case was fantastic because all the players—both black and white—walked off with him. Then this latest Muntari incident—I would have wished that the players of both teams showed more solidarity on the day.”
However, the 51-year-old former defender stopped short of recommending that other players followed Muntari’s lead and abandon contests if faced with racist abuse from the terraces.
“I’m not encouraging more players to walk off, but it shouldn’t get that far that we would have to appeal the decision,” he added. “The referees must do their job, you can stop the game and have an announcement through the public address system that the chants be stopped. Then the match continues.
“The bodies running football in the various countries must do their job. We should let the rules work properly against racism and discrimination. I’m not encouraging even kids to walk off the pitch. No!”
To conclude Baffoe remembered an incident that marked his own career, and offered that up as a potential approach for players who find themselves in Muntari’s position.
At this point, his emotions threatened to get the better of him.
Baffoe is a man who has significant passion for the welfare of footballers; he established the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana in 2009, and clearly took the abuse faced by Muntari to heart.
“When I was playing for Metz, there was a player of Olympique Lyonnais called Samassi Abou,” he continued. “I was very popular among the Metz fans.
“They always shouted my name whenever I came to warm up, but then our fans started making monkey noises whenever Samassi touched the ball. So I kicked the ball out and ask that the announcer told our fans to stop because what they were doing against my brother goes against me too.
“After the announcement, there was no more noise whenever Samassi touched the ball.”