As a German-born Ghanaian international, Anthony Baffoe was part of a generation that helped change the perception of black players in the Bundesliga. He speaks to FIFA.com about his experiences with racism, Africa's hosting of the FIFA World Cup™ and the ongoing battle against discrimination.
FIFA.com: What is, according to you, discrimination?
Anthony Baffoe: Discrimination has a lot to do with ignorance and non-acceptance. For me, as a young kid growing up in Germany, I experienced discrimination with my own flesh. Today, in 2011, a lot of things have improved, but there's still a long way to go for us to say there is only one race, and that's the human race. The world is changing step by step, and when we are all equal, then we will be able to talk about one human nature.
Can you explain how those early issues of discrimination in your life changed how you were or had an impact on you?
I was born in 1965, and it seemed in the 70s, 80s and maybe into the 90s, if you looked a bit different people would stare at you. Today, if somebody has a different colour or different look, people don't stare at them like before. The world has opened up. I remember after the TV series Roots and people called us 'Kunta Kinte' or 'Shaka Zulu' and they looked down on us. But, for me, my weapon was always the language. I am quite fluent in several languages, including German. So I knew how to defend myself.
As you became a player, did that discrimination give you a determination to prove people wrong?
The word 'proof' that you mention is very important, and also being good at sports helped me to cross barriers. But, you know, playing in villages for the club from where I grew up in Bad Godesberg, often people would make monkey noises or throw bananas at you right in the stadium. There were not a lot of black players, so it was a tough time, but we overcame it.
Were there other black players at the time in the Bundesliga, and was that important?
Yeah, one of the first was Ibrahim Sunday, who played way back in the 70s. And Julio Baylon, then Tony Yeboah and more into the 80s, but I was one of the first well-recognised black players. I remember very well, I think it was in 1991, that myself, Tony Yeboah and Souleymane Sane wrote an open letter about racism intentionally to the Bild Zeitung. And from there on, there was some change: there were flags for us and supporters started to come out against racism and things were generally getting better.
Do you think that is the key: to stand up to the discrimination?
Yeah, definitely. And I would say that for me, it was important that I had those language skills, so even if I was a rebel it was for a good cause. And it was also important that I was very proud of where I came from, and my heritage and colour, and I was not afraid to show that to the people around me. And, for instance, when Samuel Eto'o suffered insults in Spain and tried to walk off the pitch, that was a very important signal that he sent to the entire world. I think there could have been more work done with him off the field after that, to show solidarity.
And what about football's roll in discrimination and in fighting those ideas?
FIFA has done a good job at promoting Anti-Discrimination Days and also making it a major issue at World Cups. There are great ideas there, and the number of players as ambassadors are good, and there are other groups, like FARE [Football Against Racism in Europe], Kick-Out Racism and FIFPro, the player's organisation. There are a lot of players with big names, not only black players, but European players, white players, that are also championing the cause against racism, and that is a very positive signal. I do think that we do not have enough black managers, so we have to continue to work on making changes.
You played all over the world in different places – is that important for people of different backgrounds to take those chances?
I must always come back to the language barrier. A lot of players that go abroad, and in the beginning for some black players in Germany, they couldn't understand what people were saying about them. There were people making jokes about them, and everyone around them was laughing, but they didn't understand. Making jokes about heritage and colour is unacceptable, so those were the things that I fought against because I could understand them. So I think it's important for black players to stand up against these things and not wait for white people to solve them. It's not only racism, like black and white, but it's also ethnic, like in Ghana, and those are the kinds of things that must stop. It's becoming a global world, and I am very happy about that.
Last year was talked about as the 'Year of Africa' in terms of football, and the world was very focused on South Africa because of the FIFA World Cup. What were your conclusions about it and do you think the world's perspectives on the continent were changed?
When Africa got the bid, there were many people who were sceptical. When the incident with violence happened to the Togo team [in Angola at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations], people said 'you can never host the World Cup in South Africa', but meanwhile, the two countries don't share a border at all, so what do they have to do with each other? And then when there's bomb attacks in Spain and London, there were no calls like that about moving the Olympics in Greece or other things. But against all of the scepticism, we showed the whole world that we can do it. At South Africa 2010, the slogan was 'Ke Nako', which means 'It is time.' And that was true, it was our time, and I am very very happy about how it went, and I thank God that we proved the world wrong.