World Cup winner Lilian Thuram says soccer’s authorities don’t protect Black players against racism. He told Insider he is now on a mission to start an independent players’ organization that will.
“It would give them a cohesion and it would give them strength,” he said in an interview.
France’s winning team at the 1998 World Cup is one of the greatest in the history of soccer.
Led by captain Didier Deschamps, Les Bleus boasted a roster that included Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, and a young Thierry Henry.
While all of the above have since put their talents to good use in the world of football management, Lilian Thuram, another of France’s biggest stars from the tournament, has instead chosen a different career path post retirement – fighting against racism.
After calling time on a glistening playing career that saw him win titles with AS Monaco, Parma, Juventus, and FC Barcelona in 2008, Thuram first started his own foundation, which aims to educate young people on the roots of racism and explain why it is wrong.
Since then he has curated an exhibition at a museum in Paris examining the use of colonial subjects as attractions in “human zoos” and freak shows, while he has also written no less than eight books.
The latest — entitled “La pensée blanche” (“White Thought” in English) — came out in 2020, and explores the idea that race is a political ideology from which white people benefit.
Now, along with the help of some of the world’s top minds at Harvard University and a band of sports stars from the United States, he wants to create an independent players’ organization that will lead the charge in eradicating racism from soccer.
“We’re looking at a hierarchy in terms of skin color, with Black people at the bottom of the pile,” Thuram told Insider. “It’s not just something that a single country has got to face, but it is something that goes the whole way around the world.”
Racism in soccer is rife
During the 2019/20 season, English soccer’s equality and inclusion organization, Kick It Out, reported a shocking 53% increase in reported racial abuse in the professional game.
Elsewhere on the continent, levels of racism led to the issue being described as an “epidemic” by campaigners.
This season, a number of high profile racist incidents have again plagued the game, the most high profile of which came during a match in the Europa League between Rangers and Slavia Prague in March. During the came, Prague’s Ondrej Kudela racially abused Rangers defender Glen Kamara.
Kudela was handed the minimum 10-match ban, while Kamara was also banned for three games for “assaulting” the Czech player in the tunnel after the match.
Thuram told Insider that the slow and tepid response of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, is indicative of a wider problem in the governance of the sport.
He says authorities focus little effort on responding to incidents of racist abuse, or in some cases even ignore them, because they are more concerned with protecting their own, and soccer’s, current power structures.
“All of the efforts are being made to protect the economy, to protect the football economy,” said Thuram. “‘There’s no racism in football, everything is okay.’ It’s just [about] making sure that the business is maintained.”
“As a general rule, the institutions do not protect victims of racism,” he added.
Thuram’s viewpoint was evident in recent weeks after the announcement of the now-dead European Super League. UEFA came out swinging against the Super League with the organization’s president Aleksander Ceferin calling it a “spit in the face of all football lovers,” and accusing clubs who planned on joining of being “snakes.”
This response was almost immediately questioned by some players, who asked why European soccer’s governing body has not been so vocal when it comes to tackling racism within the sport.
Speaking to Insider, Thuram went on to reference an incident during a Spanish La Liga game in April, where Cadiz’s Juan Cala was alleged to have racially abused Valencia’s Mouctar Diakhaby.
T he game was temporarily halted after Valencia players walked off. It later resumed – just without Diakhaby.
“When there is a racist incident on the pitch, pretty much what happens most of the time is that the player gets a yellow card, and sometimes he’ll get red card,” he said.
“And if the player decides that he wants to leave the pitch, pretty much all of the others players will do everything they possibly can to hold him back and keep them on the pitch.
“So what it looks like the person who has been insulted is attempting to walk off but he’s basically spoiling the game.”
After the incident Cala said Diakhaby had “misunderstood” him – a stance later backed by La Liga. The league said by there was no evidence that Diakhaby had been racially abused, other than the player’s own word.
“Instead of defending Diakhaby, La Liga actually takes the line that denounces the player,” said Thuram.
“It shows that they most likely have the same level of prejudice.”
To bypass the lack of action from the powers that be, Thuram now wants to form a Black players’ organization that will tackle racial injustice.