Mouctar Diakhaby and his Valencia teammates felt compelled to leave the pitch amid a belief that he was racially abused. The decision to leave the pitch is an admirable one, but it reinforces the problem that it is up to players to decide the course of action.
Cadiz’s Juan Cala is at the heart of the contretemps with Diakhaby, and it is worth noting that the allegation and defence - if there is any - will have to play out before we can draw any conclusions over Cala. However, there is no reason to doubt that Diakhaby holds a sincere belief that he was subject of racist abuse, particularly given Valencia’s Twitter post in support of their player.
It is heartening, too, to see that Valencia’s players went off in solidarity with their teammate. Too often before we have seen players in Italy and elsewhere attempt to persuade their colleagues to remain on the pitch in the face of racist abuse and goading from spectators. Really, if a player has suffered such abuse and he feels like the game is not worth continuing, he should feel free to leave. More strongly, there is a perfectly good argument that if there is racist abuse from a crowd or a team, that should be the end of the game and the win is awarded against the guilty party.
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While that might be extreme, it highlights the problem at the heart of the struggles of racism in football. For now, too much of the work and responsibility is placed upon players. They are essentially expected to lead without being given the authority to do so.
If players decide that it is no longer right to remain on the pitch, in protest at the treatment they, a colleague or a peer is receiving, then that is their right as the labour central to the product. It is their moral right to be able to control how their output is treated, and they should be in control of it. It might be seen as too hard to be done on a case-by-case basis, especially under such duress, but that highlights the lack of work done around the problem.
The Premier League, La Liga and UEFA have often talked a good game about combating racism. We have players taking a knee and there is, apparently, a study going on into the impacts of the coronavirus on the BAME demographic. With almost universal vaccination in the United Kingdom on the horizon, the latter is now essentially pointless. And taking a knee has - given the abuse we see still on social media - done little more than given inspiration and aggravation to racists. Taking a knee should have been the start of a movement and resistance that was given resources by those who profit off its subjects' labour. Instead it was treated as the end of what footballing authorities had to do.
Speaking after the incident, former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand said that he would support players going even further and cancelling games in the event of racist abuse.
“I 100% support that, it’s going to have a huge impact,” he told BT Sport.
“I think it’s only a matter of time until a game is going to be stopped completely. It shows that people feel confident, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Ferdinand of course knows what he is talking about. He was booed by rival football fans for having the temerity to be related to Anton Ferdinand, who was allegedly racially abused by John Terry, and playing alongside Patrice Evra, who was, by Luis Suarez’s own admission, abused by the then-Liverpool striker.
Ferdinand himself has spoken in the past at his frustrations of the limitations of Kick It Out, and his belief that it is now inevitable players will have to take extensive industrial action points to the idea that after asking for more from football’s regulators, and social media companies, that the players themselves will have to fight for their own rights and protection. It is perhaps inevitable that an ill-equipped group of ruling bodies should have failed in their duty of care for their players, but it should not have come to this.
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