Charmaine Hooper is a legend in Canada and the world of women’s football. Strong, powerful and determined, the Guyana-born powerhouse played 131 times for the Canadian national team, scoring no fewer than 71 goals, and went on to become one of the biggest names in the women’s game. Now enjoying her retirement in the southern part of the USA, the well-travelled striker and three-time FIFA Women’s World Cup veteran spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about her ugly experience with racism in football and what she thinks can be done to stamp it out for good.
FIFA.com: How would you describe or define discrimination?
Charmaine Hooper: It encompasses a lot of things. But in its essence I would say it’s the preventing of a group or an individual from achieving a goal or participating in something, or being part of a group. It’s an exclusion.
Have you ever experienced an identifiable instance of discrimination?
In life you come across different types of discrimination. There’s direct and indirect, and the indirect kind you aren’t always aware of.
Have you ever experienced an instance of the direct variety on a football pitch?
One incident stands out in my mind, from when I was playing in Italy. We were away from home – I don’t really even remember where the stadium was. The fans, as usual, were doing what they could do to intimidate us. But then they started to jeer me in particular. They were making animal noises whenever I touched the ball.
What were your feelings when you realized what was happening?
It was the first time I’d ever come across anything like that. I consider myself a pretty strong individual, and I was usually able to channel that kind of anger into my playing. But this was more devastating than anything I’d experienced, and I thought to myself ‘how am I supped to handle this?’. The best thing I could think of was to keep my composure, keep doing my job and be a professional. That said, it was an unbelievable thing to experience.
Did you report the incident to anyone after the game? Was the club fined?
There were no controls, no discipline to be taken and no real course of action. It was 1993 and women’s football at that time was still developing and we were lucky if we got paid on time - it was very rare - and the women’s game was very much second class to the men’s.
Then what, as an individual, can you do to combat that kind of racism when it happens?
As a player there’s not much recourse. You are out there and trying to do a hard job on the field. The changes have to come from the top.
How do you think soccer and FIFA can help in the fight against discrimination?
I know FIFA and some of the clubs out there have tried to take a stand against racism, and they need to keep going forward. There have to be repercussions against clubs where things like this happen. They need to be docked points and be fined if these kinds of things are rampant. The clubs themselves need to stamp the racism out, so the clubs need to have pressure put on them.
Do you think the current controls need to be increased?
Yes, I do. The punishment can’t just be a slap on the wrist, or else these things continue. What happened to me is nothing compared to what happens in the some of the men’s leagues. It’s disappointing, and I’m not sure it happens in other sports. It’s disappointing for our game. I’m sure it will take some time to stamp racism and discrimination out of the game, but it can be stopped and the will has to be there.