At 31 years of age, David Suazo is the biggest name in Honduran football and represented his country at last year’s FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. Boasting 13 years of European experience and currently on the books of Italian giants Inter Milan, Suazo has, like so many other sportsmen and women, been the victim of racial abuse during the course of his career.
Speaking to FIFA.com, he discussed his first-hand experiences of discrimination as well as possible ways of banishing the spectre of racism from the beautiful game.
FIFA.com: David, how would you define discrimination?
David Suazo: Absurd. If I had to use one word to describe it, that would be it. After everything we’ve already seen, as well as what’s known and spoken about on the subject, I can’t find any other way to refer to discrimination. When you see what this kind of attitude means and what it entails, all you can think is that ‘it can’t be possible’. Unfortunately it still exists and people are still discriminated against because of their colour or the way they speak.
Would it be safe to say discrimination is down to a lack of education or is there more to it than that?
It’s strange, because when you look closely you see that most of the people who do these types of things do have an education. Perhaps in football, which is a more popular sport, that (lack of education) might be something to do with it, but away from the stadiums it has more to do with self-interest. Some people benefit from discrimination - it’s a way of wielding power.
So, you’ve noticed it in other walks of life too?
Of course! It happens everywhere. I see it a lot in terms of social class: some people want to make you feel like you’re not as good as they are, just because of the colour of your skin or nationality.
I know that FIFA are fighting against racism and I think that’s tremendous. It’s something that has to be done for the good of football.
Do you think the issue is ingrained in society? Are we really aware of what’s going on?
I’ve been in Europe for 13 years now and I can say that, fortunately, the situation has improved slightly. If I were to say that it no longer exists I’d be telling the world’s biggest lie, but it is true that there's a noticeably greater level of acceptance now. There’s more work to do in that regard, because you can still be discriminated against for being black or yellow, for speaking French or Spanish. In football it’s easier to counteract this than in other areas of life: if you play well, they love you. But if you have a bad game, you’re back to being looked down upon by everybody.
Have you ever suffered first-hand from discrimination?
Yes, of course – I’ve been discriminated against because of my colour. I was playing for Cagliari and we were taking on Verona away from home. It was a really ugly situation, you know? Nobody likes to be abused every time they touch the ball. People were making monkey noises and things like that. It wasn’t the best experience - it was absurd and unacceptable. Fortunately, a fine resulted from that. Despite it all, that was a positive thing.
How did people around you react to that treatment? Did you receive any shows of support?
Yes, I did receive support and sympathy. But it’s not just an individual matter: every one of my fellow pros who is subject to this kind of harassment needs support. These incidents are deplorable, and a lot of people are aware of that.
How can this kind of abuse be tackled?
There are interesting measures (that can be taken), such as suspending or cancelling a match when this kind of thing rears its head. That is something that makes an impact, because the people that do it will know that they’re not only damaging their club, but they’re hurting all the fans who are at the stadium to watch the game. I know that FIFA are fighting against racism and I think that’s tremendous. It’s something that has to be done for the good of football.
If you had the opportunity to come face-to-face with those behind discrimination of this nature in football stadiums, what would you say to them?
The message is clear: tolerance makes us all grow as individuals. They have to understand that, whether they are a different colour or nationality, people go to other countries simply to do their jobs well. We’re not here to offend anybody, we just want to be able to carry out our professions with dignity. We’re not better or worse than anybody else. That’s something everybody should understand.
Finally, would you like to highlight any well-known anti-racism campaigners from throughout history?
Someone who’s still alive and mustn’t be overlooked is Nelson Mandela, who is a true example of the form a struggle should take. He was able to unite a whole nation and he also used sport to cement that bond. I think we ought to follow his example and take up his cause in order to improve things in that area (discrimination).