When discussing the issue of discrimination in football, it can be all too easy to focus purely on how it affects black players. The reality is that racism goes far beyond just skin colour and can often have an impact that goes much deeper. In Argentina, for example, many immigrants are subjected to various types of racial abuse both on and off the pitch.
While there are no official figures, it is estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million Bolivians live in Argentina, making it the largest expatriate Bolivian community. Ronald Raldes is one of them, but he is in a more privileged position than most. Indeed, Raldes plays for Colon Santa Fe in the Argentinian football’s top flight, and is set to captain Bolivia at this summer’s Copa America – the fourth of his career.
Raldes recently turned 30 and is a well-travelled pro, having played for clubs in Mexico, Israel and even as far afield as the United Arab Emirates. Nonetheless, discrimination is something he has to deal with on a regular basis. In a frank interview with FIFA.com, the Colon centre-back shared his views and experiences of racism in society and the world of football, and suggested ways of eradicating the problem.
FIFA.com: How would you define discrimination in just a few words?
Ronald Raldes: As something very ugly, of course. I’d describe it as one person making another feel extremely humiliated and degraded on the grounds of their nationality, skin colour or any other reason. Unfortunately it takes many forms.
Whenever the subject of racism comes up, I always say the same thing: I hope we can find a way to stop it once and for all.
Where does racism come from, and what causes people to act in such a way?
I think, first and foremost, that it comes from a lack of education and a fundamental lack of respect for others. Whenever the subject of racism comes up, I always say the same thing: I hope we can find a way to stop it once and for all.
You’ve spent almost six years of your career in Argentina and have adapted very well to the game there. Yet even so, some supporters still shout abuse about your nationality. That must feel strange. How do you deal with such a difficult situation?
Honestly? I just don’t listen to any of it. Partly because I’m so focused during matches, but also because I don’t want to acknowledge it and let it wind me up. It’s something I can’t control, so that’s why I prefer not to listen.
Have you ever been directly affected by discrimination?
I’m fortunate because I’ve never been affected on a personal level. I’ve always been lucky enough to avoid it. I’ve always felt at home in Argentina, and so far I haven’t been in any unpleasant situations. But discrimination clearly does exist.
What can FIFA and the football community do to rid the sport of racism?
In Argentina, they’ve adopted special measures such as stopping matches when supporters sing discriminatory or racist songs. It’s a good method, but it needs to be enforced more often. Sometimes you see matches on TV that carry on regardless. You have to punish that kind of thing. I don’t know if deducting points is the best way, but there should be some kind of punishment so that people begin to think twice. Little by little, it would help us put an end to it.
If you had the chance to sit down and have a coffee with someone who shouts abuse at matches, what would you say to them?
In all honesty, I wouldn’t sit down to talk or drink coffee with people like that. If I did, I would be demeaning myself. People who do that kind of thing have no respect and no manners. I prefer to show that I’m not bothered by it.