Racial abuse, such as name-calling and monkey chants, is a common occurrence on football grounds, according to international goalkeeper Rashed Al-Tumi.
The 19-year-old, who is regarded as one of the most promising goalkeepers in Maltese football, said it could only be curbed by educating young children.
Al-Tumi was recently the target of abuse on Facebook from Manuel Pisani, a San Ġwann Youth Nursery official, who has since been sacked.
Under a post by Al-Tumi condemning the murder of George Floyd in the US, Pisani said black people should be sent to Africa. But his comment backfired, with other social media users urging him to learn about US slavery and immigration history.
Pisani reacted by urging Al-Tumi to “go back to his country”, adding that he was not Maltese but was brought here and taught football here.
In fact, Al-Tumi was born in Malta but that is beside the point, the goalkeeper told Times of Malta.
“Football is a universal game. It is played by people of all ethnicities and creeds the world over. It is not a game limited to some culture or some nationality. How can you be racist about a universal sport?” he said.
Unfortunately, racial slurs during football games are regular, Al Tumi said, adding that he has also experienced abuse outside the pitch in his everyday life.
He recalled several instances when hyped-up supporters of opposing teams shouted out insults followed by monkey chants to make sure he knew the name-calling was addressed to him.
Al Tumi believes the football authorities are doing their utmost to curb racism.
However, while people could be fired from their official positions or banned from the grounds, they could still turn to social media and be racist there.
“Hats off to San Ġwann FC for the dismissal and the Malta Football Association’s expression of solidarity. I hope that the same action is taken in the case of any future abuse – whether racist or Islamophobic.
Pisani told the goalkeeper to ‘go back to your country’ though he was born in Malta
“But I believe it is near impossible to change the mindset of adults, and that is why we need to sensitise children to racial issues. They are our only hope.”
Birkirkara midfielder Yannick Yankam, who was also recently at the receiving end of racial abuse on Facebook, believes one way to curb racism is to “listen to what African and black people have to say”.
“We need to, first of all, admit that we have a problem and then hold more discussions with African and black people about their experiences and racial issues.”
Yankam was recently part of a LovinMalta live-streamed debate about Floyd. One person left racist and derogatory language under the stream, at one point referring to Yankam and another young Maltese man as “jungle monkeys”.
The 22-year-old footballer, who was also born in Malta, has encountered similar abuse on the pitch.
“Racial abuse is a regular thing in football. If you are black, rival supporters who throw racist insults at you would shower you with love if you were on their team.”
Former football player Damian Iriele told Times of Malta that racism within football circles has been a serious problem for years. It is difficult to fight, he believes, as it is most often cultivated in the home.
Recalling his days on the playing field some 15 years ago, Iriele said most of the racial abuse remained unreported, and when it was, it was swept under the carpet with little or no action taken.
It was now encouraging to see the authorities clamping down on offenders, he said.
The problem with racial abuse on the pitch, he added, was that it was difficult to record. If supporters, players or officials are caught in the act, their line of defence is: “How can I be racist when I have friends who are black?” Even some referees turn a blind eye, with some urging the player “you are strong, you can take it”.
Iriele explained that it was especially difficult to report when the abuser made sure it was only heard or witnessed by the victim: “Opposing players who don’t want to be overheard calling you names will spit at you.
“Others, including your own teammates might discriminate against you in a subtle way through their interaction.”
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