The fact that we are still talking about racism within sports and society is shameful. In the year 2017 this shouldn’t be an issue but here we are. During my youth in the 90s I was told that we are moving towards a more inclusive multicultural way of life. Racism existed, but it was going away I was told by teachers, coaches and other grown ups. Those dreams have long been shattered. I’ve seen racism in the workplace, whilst being out in public and I read about in the press at an alarmingly high rate. The fact that racism has become palatable in the political sphere once again shows that we have been moving backwards in the last few years. Germany is no different, as the right wing party Alternative for Germany managed to secure a whopping 13% during the last federal election.
All of these things combined are numbing. It’s hard to fathom why other people could be so hateful, misinformed and vile. Speaking up against these trends and highlighting that no form of racism is acceptable has become more important than ever in the toxic atmosphere created by the likes of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Alexander Gauland and their ever growing amount of disciples. Eintracht Frankfurt’s Kevin Prince Boateng has a long history of speaking up against racism has done so once again in a remarkable interview with the internet portal Jetzt. In the interview the 30-year-old spoke about his experiences growing up in Berlin and how racism has followed him in his everyday life over the last 30 years.
Experience at the youth level
Whilst my coaches and the grown ups around me wanted to shield me from racism 20-22 years ago by simply stating that it was going away, Kevin Prince Boateng was at the very same time subjected to it from the start as a youth player. He told Jetzt:
“The first few times it happened it turned out to be a very emotional moment for me. I was never fortunate enough to have my dad at my games which meant that I didn’t have an older person there who could help me. Some of the other parents of other teammates tried to help me then. If a kid insulted me I could think to myself: Okay, he speaks that way because he has heard it somewhere else. However, when grown ups do that it hurt. In that very moment you know that they want to hurt a seven or eight your old kid. When I was young I tried to suppress those things, to think them away. Back then I cried a lot. I never really talked about it.”
As time went by Boateng found it easier to cope with those incidents:
“This didn’t happen just once, but many times. Suppressing it became easier as time went by. I simply concentrated on the match and I paid back those insults by scoring goals. I had teammates who were insulted as well. Chinedu Ede for instance. He too became a Bundesliga player later on. Back then we played together and we thought those incidents away together.”
According to the 30-year-old midfielder the two of them talked a lot about these things, often times whilst one of them was crying. The pair had to carry that burden and one out of the two of them had to be the stronger person consoling the other one. Sometimes it was Boateng who needed that comfort, at other times it was Ede who needed to be consoled.
Boateng said that his coaches did the best they could to protect him from the racism he was facing from the sidelines, but at times this could be a very hard challenge during away games where many parents and fans created a toxic atmosphere. “Our coaches told us that the others were idiots, don’t take it to your hearts”, the 30-year-old explains.
There is one particular incident from the Eintracht’s player’s youth that has left a mark over the years:
“This happened during an indoor tournament, I was already playing for an underage national team side at that time. At the tournament somebody yelled:”You’ll get a banana for every goal you score!” At that moment I didn’t feel German. I questioned my childhood, who I am, where I’m from, everything really. Even though I should be one hundred percent German, even if I have a different colour of skin. I was born here, I speak the language and I had lived 20 years in Germany at that point. Despite that, those sort of situations took the feeling of being German away from me. Nowadays I know that I’m German and Ghanian.”
Speaking up in public
These days the midfielder is known all around the world after playing in Germany, England, Italy and Spain. His career has been controversial at times, but Boa is respected as a footballer of great talent. Despite that he still experiences what it means to face everyday racism:
“I don’t get hate directly from people, but sometimes people walk to the other side of the street to avoid me. It can also happen that I’m sitting at the lights in my car and the couple next to me give me a look and they shake their head. At that point I know what they are thinking: How can a black guy own such a car? He must be a drug dealer. One time I was at a supermarket and I saw a woman not being able to reach the rice on the top shelve. So I picked it up for her. She put straight back into the shelve, and contacted an employee at the store to fetch another packet for her. Can you imagine how that feels?”
During his career Boateng has become known for how he reacted to racist chants in a friendly between AC Milan and Aurora Pro Patria on January 3rd 2013. Back then KPB was one of Milan’s key players and one of the biggest stars within Italian football. After 26 minutes of racial abuse the midfielder decided to kick the ball angrily away, before walking off the pitch. His teammates showed solidarity and walked off with him. In the aftermath of that incident Boateng spoke at the UN in Geneve about racism within football.
Boateng was also part of the “Say no to racism” campaign launched by Uefa. However, he’s been cut out of the video now that he isn’t playing Champions League football anymore. “I was the first player who mentioned the problem, and I was the first one to get cut out of the video, that says it all really”, KPB told Jetzt.
What to do in the future
Over the last few weeks the 30-year-old has been a vocal supporter of filming the stands during a football match in order to be able to spot potential racial abuse. Boateng cites the prevention of pyro technics being used as another positive effect of such a measure. Children shouldn’t be subjected to racist messages in stadiums. Another way of dealing with racism within the stands supported by Boateng are neutral observers who could monitor the fans behaviour at all times, which could enable clubs to ban perpetrators of racial hate speech.
Furthermore, Boateng states that the DFB and the Uefa aren’t doing enough to confront the topic:
“It’s not enough to play “No to racism” videos ahead of Champions League matches. The five year old Eintracht Frankfurt fan is possibly not even able to see that video. It is not enough to wear t-shirts saying “No racism” or “We are showing racism the red card”. Those things are all nice, and they should be continued – but, there needs to be more. More publicity around the subject, more videos. One has to see the games as events and one needs take a stance. Every clubs marketing division should do something as well. Every Bundesliga player, every player in the world, would help.”