Blackness in Soccer

The World Cup’s allure is practically unrivaled by any other competitive sport, or game, since the dawn of civilization. Just last week, the thrilling match between the USA and Portugal broke ESPN’s  record for the most watched sporting event since it began over thirty years ago. Looking back to the 2006 World Cup, there was an estimated 750 million people who watched the final and that’s not including the presumably millions of fans crowded in local bars or outdoor venues.

There is an ugly side to the soccer spectacle billed as the melding of ethnic flavors with healthy competition. Soccer has long been a sport plagued by racial bigotry much akin to the blatant expressions of racism in the US prior to integration. I don’t mean to give the impression that the US is now devoid of racism, given the lack of Black coaches across the sports spectrum and the recent scandal involving Donald Sterling, race is clearly still an issue in the US. However, long gone are the days when racial insults are hailed down from the stands with regularity. Yet just this past April, Dani Alves a world-class Brazilian right back, tired of ignoring the bananas thrown at his feet during play, decided to take a bite out of one during a corner kick. With that single symbolic gesture he brought to light the overtly racist chants, banana throwing, and player-to-player insults that soccer organizations continue to ignore.

Though the World Cup seems to do a good job of quelling such barbaric behavior–at least on the surface. However, the insidiousness of raciality is so deeply embedded within FIFA (the organization responsible for organizing the cup), its barely perceptible to the untrained eye. Take a look at this clip from John Oliver’s new show on HBO where he describes the global atrocities for which the World Cup is responsible for:

This World Cup has been especially horrendous in the collusion of FIFA and the Brazilian government to silence protesters, while building multi-million stadiums in the middle of nowhere jungles and lifting any responsibility builders have to pay taxes. In other words, they will spend close to 11 billion dollars for stadiums that will only be enjoyed during the tournament without having to give any money back to aid the communities–in the form of taxes–that are disrupted by the construction.

Nevertheless, many people still take to the streets, many of them black and poor, with the courage to contest the subtle racism embedded in a tournament that does little to address the issues of poverty and racism plaguing many of the favelas just beyond their modern stadiums. Just last Thursday, hundreds of Brazilians again took to the streets even in the face of massive police backlash. Take a look at the photos below which you will be hard pressed to find on any major media outlet:

And there have been the efforts of #HumanRightsCup, who want to stop the ongoing exploitation by FIFA in Brazil. You can find their efforts in places as globally dispersed as Spain, Ghana, Algeria, Greece, Honduras, South Korea, and many more. They are bringing to light that Blackness in soccer includes addressing both the overt racism of fans and the subtle structures of racism embedded in its largest international body.



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