WATCH: A Brief History of Overt Racism in Professional Soccer

By Ryan Stewart 2-18-2015
Screenshot via YouTube
Mario Balotelli. Screenshot via YouTube

When fans barred a black man from boarding a train as they chanted racist lyrics after the Chelsea vs. PSG match on Feb. 17, it was only the most recent in a long history of similarly egregious acts.

Professional soccer is no stranger to racism. While such acts of overt bias should anger us, they should not surprise us. Whether it's chanted slurs, especially dirty tackles, or thrown bananas, racist behaviors emerge from a racist culture.

Below are videos of six of the most infamous incidents of racism in professional soccer since 2011. It is important to remember that these acts are only the explicit tip of an implicit iceberg. These are only some of the examples captured on video.

For examples of racism that extend to the structural level, watch John Oliver’s criticism of the 2014 World Cup or consider that only 19 black and ethnic minority coaches occupy the 552 top coaching positions in England. This goes far deeper than slurs.

Here are six of the most flagrant manifestations of racism in soccer since 2011:

1) Chelsea fans bar the subway in Paris amidst racist chants — February 17, 2015

Not only do the fans prevent a black man from boarding the train, they also chant “we're racist, we're racist and that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it” as a black woman steps away from the train doors.


2) Fans throw a banana at Barcelona player Dani Alves — April 27, 2014

After Spanish fans threw a banana at the Brazilian defender, Alves picked up the banana, took a bite, and proceeded with his corner kick.

“If you don’t give it importance, they don’t achieve their objective,” Alves said in response to the incident.

“We have suffered this in Spain for a long time.”


3) Luis Suarez refuses to shake Patrice Evra’s hand — February 11, 2011

It’s not just the fans. Now infamous for his biting, Suarez was banned eight matches in 2011 after using racial slurs against Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. The video above pictures Suarez ignoring and passing over Evra’s handshake in one of Suarez’s first games back after the ban. Although Suarez has publicly regretted his biting, he still maintains his innocence on this issue.


4) Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng walks off the field as fans chant monkey noises — January 3, 2013

In a friendly match against Pro Patria, Boateng led his entire team and coaching staff off the field in the 25th minute. This was after he stopped play and kicked the ball at fans who chanted monkey noises at him. The Chief Financial Officer of Boateng’s new German club, Schalke, reported that Boateng left Italian soccer because of racism.


5) Roberto Carlos leaves a match after fans throw a banana at him during play — June 22, 2011

In this video, Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos is hit with a banana while he is kicking the ball. Glaring at the stands, Carlos immediately walked off the pitch. He later said he considered retiring after that game.

“You know when that sadness hits, that feeling of being powerless? I left there sad, hurt. So many kids there. That has to be banned from football,” Carlos said.


6) The continual abuse of Italian star Mario Balotelli — 2011-2015

Balotelli has been subjected to racist abuse throughout his youth and professional career in Italy.  In the video above, Balotelli explains how racism makes him feel alone. This all comes from a sporting culture in which a former national coach recently complained of “too many foreigners” in the youth soccer system, which is contributing to Italy losing its “national pride and identity.”

Ryan Stewart is Online Assistant for Sojourners.

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Must Reads