Players From PSG and Istanbul Basaksehir Walk Off the Pitch in Protest of Racist Incident

On December 8, in a championship league match between Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir players from both the teams walked off mid-game in protest of a reported racist comment made at Basaksehir’s Assistant Coach, Pierre Webo who is a former Cameroonian international.

Fifteen minutes into the game, Webo was shown a red card by the referee Ovidiu Hategan. It is reported that in pointing out Webo, the match’s fourth official Sebastian Coltescu of Romania allegedly used the word ‘negru’ in Romanian which means Black. The fourth official was then approached by Basaksehir’s substitute Demba Ba who demanded that Coltesco explain himself. Demba Ba asked Coltescu why he used “Black” to point out webo when most likely he would have not used “white” to describe a player. Ba was heard saying, “When you mention a white guy, you never say ‘this white guy’, you just say ‘this guy’, so why when you mention a Black guy do you say ‘this Black guy?’”. Ba was joined by Neymar and Kylian Mbappé of Paris Saint-Germain who also wanted Coltescu to explain himself. Okan Buruk the coach of Basaksehir is reported to have told Coltescu, “you are racist”.

In an act of solidarity and unity, players from both Paris Saint German and Istanbul Basaksehir walked off the pitch as a sign to show they were standing together in support of Webo. At the time of the match, officials had initially thought to simply start the game after a short intermission. However, the game was postponed until Wednesday. The Turkish team refused to continue the game as long as Coltescu was still involved in the match.

Okan Buruk, the coach of Basaksehir said, “The fourth official used an unacceptable word to Pierre Achille Webo. The referee should have dealt with the situation properly but didn’t. We had to show that we were with Webo.” The Turkish champions had refused to restart the game on Tuesday as long as the fourth official Coltescu was still involved. Buruk added, “Webo was upset. We all gave him our support, but it’s someone else who should feel bad and that is the person who used the words. He is the guilty one. We have to show that we can all live together. Humanity is the most important thing.”

After the game, players and members of the football community turned to social media to show their continued support for Webo.

Photo Credit: Neymar’s’ Instagram

The game continued on Wednesday, where the players and coaches reiterated their support for Webo and saying no to racism. The officials were replaced by a new team. Players also wore t-shirts with slogans that said, “say no to racism.” This mirrored the messages on the banners in the stands. The players and new team of officials also took a knee before the start of the game in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Neymar told French broadcaster RMC Sport, “[w]hat happened was unacceptable. In the times we live in, we cannot accept differences being made like that about color or race. It has no place in football, or in life, or in any sport, so our attitude was perfect”.

Rio Ferdinand, who is the former Manchester United and England defender and now a TV pundit raised an important note when discussing the incident and the players walking off. Ferdinand said, “I think we are at a disturbing tipping point. Not a week goes by without an incident involving race. The players walking off is a step in the right direction, but it can’t just be left to them.” The players’ actions sent a united message that racism will not be tolerated, which is incredibly important given the number of racist incidents that players face in the matches and online. There have been several incidents where players have been called racial slurs from other players, officials, and viewers. There have been several initiatives targeted at helping to educate and support professional players and members of the football community.

Kick it Out is an equality and inclusion organization based in the United Kingdom. Kick it Out started as a charity with the ‘Let’s Kick Racism out of Football’ campaign in 1993, before becoming an organization in 1997. Kick It Out has worked on several reports, and recently supported a study commissioned by the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) charity that was conducted between June 17, 2020, and July 26, 2020. The study found that 43% of Premier League players had experienced racist abuse on Twitter. Kick It out also released shocking statistics that showed in the last year there were 446 reports of abuse in professional games. This is a 42% increase from the last season. In general, they found that racist abuse went up by 53%, and abuse based on sexual orientation went up by 95%.

This reinforces what Rio Ferdinand said, that while unity from the players is essential, it cannot just be left up to them.

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