Back on 3 January, during a mid-season friendly between Pro Patria and AC Milan, Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng and several team-mates became the target of racist chanting from a section of the home crowd.
Boateng reacted by kicking the ball into the crowd and walking off the pitch, with the rest of his team-mates and the AC Milan coaching staff following in support. This powerful statement caught the attention of football and even of the United Nations.
On 21 March, Boateng was invited to speak in Geneva on the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, saying “Racism is still amongst us and is still a problem. If we don’t fight the stagnation, many…could become infected with one of the most dangerous diseases of all time.”
Upon the invitation of the FIFA President, the 26-year-old was invited to the Home of FIFA in Zurich to discuss issues of discrimination within the game. Following the meeting, he spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Can you tell us what you came to discuss at the Home of FIFA today?
Kevin-Prince Boateng: I had a meeting with President Blatter. We talked about racism in football and about how can find a way to fight it. He also asked me to join the task force.
What do you think the football community can do to help eradicate racism?
First of all we have to realise that it is a very complicated subject. It’s not always easy to sanction someone or give a punishment, but I think that because we have so many intelligent people behind this now, we will find a way. Hopefully, things will start from today.
Yesterday, you were at a UN conference in Geneva. What did you learn from it?
It was an unbelievable experience, something which was totally different for me. At the end of the conference I felt confident about the future and I believe it’s bright because I could see that a lot of people want to help, that others have been in the same situation as myself and that together we can push and win this battle against racism.
In your speech yesterday, you quoted Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Are they role models for you?
Definitely. Not only because they are black, but they also fought against racism. They are idols for me.
Do you feel an obligation to fight against racism, because you are a role model for young people too?
I hope I’m a role model. But (when I walked off the pitch), it was an emotional reaction. I didn’t think it would make such a big statement. But I am happy that people saw what I did, they liked it and supported me in that. From there, we’re going to go forward to win this battle.
Tell us how you were feeling when you walked off the pitch against Pro Patria…
It’s difficult to put it into words. There were so many emotions: sadness, anger, disappointment. I don’t want anyone to feel like that again. That’s for sure.
Have you talked with other players about discrimination?
Yes, of course – and I’m receiving a lot of support, even from players who aren’t black. That’s what gives me belief and gives me strength; the fact that others are supporting me.
When you were growing up in Berlin, did you suffer any discrimination?
Oh yes, even though it’s a city which embraces a lot of different cultures and nationalities, I suffered. But when I was younger, I just tried to ignore it because I didn’t want to confront the issues. Now I’m a little bit older and I have a child myself, I want to do my best so that my child can grow up in a world without racism. That would be a perfect world.
It’s been mooted that a points deduction may serve as a potential deterrent to fans thinking about making racist chants. What do you think about that?
Well, I’m a football player and it’s not up to me to make that decision. However, I’m not sure that I’d like the fact that some fans would have the power to take points from my team. Another option may be to play matches behind closed doors. But in the end, we have to be strict and hard, we have to maintain the fight against racism somehow and we must never lose focus from that.
What do you say to people who think that racist chants are just ‘part of the game’?
It’s not part of football. It’s not part of any sport and it’s not part of life. There are so many supportive songs you can sing at a stadium.