Discrimination in Football is Growing Rapidly | Teen Ink

Discrimination in Football is Growing Rapidly

May 26, 2023
By WarrenReynolds22 BRONZE, Louisville, Kentucky
WarrenReynolds22 BRONZE, Louisville, Kentucky
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Imagine this: it’s a big day. You’re an athlete of color, expecting to have a good time at the game, hoping you do good. You play the same as everyone else, maybe even better, and you’re surrounded by 10s, 100s, or 1,000s of people. Depending on your position, you either make a clean tackle/ball-steal, or you score. Proud of yourself, you celebrate with your teammates, or your fans cheer you on. As you are returning to your position, an opposing player says to you, “Nice one, [racist name]”. You try to ignore it, although it angers you a bit, you still manage to let it go. You continue to do good, hearing your fans yell happily, whistling and chanting, but behind it is what sounds like angry yelling. You get concerned, and pay more attention to the crowd.

You still hear fans of your team cheer you on, but that is soon drowned out by angry yelling, and loud “Boo”s. Once you listen closer to what they’re saying, you hear people telling you to die, saying you're worthless, and saying racist things, all to bring you down. You try to ignore it, but at every stoppage, it gets clearer and clearer. Your performance then starts to go downhill, your teammates try to make you feel better, and that seems to work, only for a minute though. You keep up, trying to still do good, but think to yourself, “Why are they angry with me, why would they say this?”. While part of this must be because you are doing well, the fans still would be angry, but a majority of them and the things they are saying are too far. You tell the crowd to shut up with a “Shh” signal, but you get a yellow card/a warning. You then realize, “It’s because of my race.”

Many athletes of color all around the world, but mainly in Europe experience this. It almost happens at every game where a player of color does well, and nothing has been done about it. There is no good reason to attack someone because of their race. Things need to change, policies need to be made, and more care needs to be added to this issue.

Discrimination in sports has been an issue in the social justice system for a while now, although rates aren’t as high, it still occurs today. No policies were ever written to stop racism in sports, most people just rolled with the flow and stopped overtime, but some didn’t, and without those policies, nothing will change at this rate. In the article, “Vinícius Jr. is being racially abused during LaLiga matches. Why is nobody being punished?” on CNN, the president of the Movement Against Intolerance Spanish organization, Esteban Ibarra says, “We maintain that there are plenty of racist incidents, which have not been stopped when there is relevant legislation and sufficient law, policing and institutional capacity will put an end to this ignominious behavior.”(Ibarra 2). When matches start, and players score, of course the opposing team would be upset, but they shouldn’t rely on insults and racism to prove their point or take out their anger, but they do, it’s not just fans though, the players, coaches, and referees do too. In the same article, the Association of Spanish Footballers said, “-within the sports field, there is a disciplinary code that also contemplates possible sanctions for this type of conduct. We want to insist that what happened with Vinícius is a hate crime, which is criminally prosecuted.”(Grez 3). But, Vinicius isn’t the only victim of racial discrimination during matches, and it’s not just on the pitch, it’s in public too. During an Inter Milan vs. Juventus Serie Á match, a player of color, Romelu Lukaku, scored a goal for Inter Milan, so Juventus goalie and Juventus fans started making monkey noises, when Lukaku got mad and said for them to shut up, Lukaku got the yellow card, not the discriminatory players, and nothing was done to punish the fans. Even after all of this, nothing has been done or dealt with, the Association of Spanish Footballers also said, “So it is the State, the Justice and the Security Forces [police and Civil Guard] who must investigate and act immediately in the face of this type of event,”(Grez 2), but instead the Justice and Security forces has just sat there and let it build up and get worse. Now that the Justice and Security forces haven’t done anything, UEFA and the EU have been discussing what’s been happening. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the European Union (EU) should make policies in order to increase equality for players of color and work to address discrimination and racism due to the impact it has on players and teams.

Discrimination in football/soccer is mainly due to historic racism. Not too long ago(about 190 years ago), African (East, West, South, Central, not North) people were discriminated all across Europe and North Africa, and they were not allowed to do what they wanted to, but in 1834, a law made against discrimination was made in the EU, which meant everybody could go to the same school, drink from the same water fountain, and play the same sports, the rules weren’t followed though, discrimination did die down, but it never stopped, and in 1999, another law was made, which meant any sort of segregation or discrimination is completely illegal. Although this law was made, it was never very enforced. Football/Soccer is a sport to get away from the world and just have fun, so there weren’t many policies that weren’t common sense in the stadiums. That meant there were no rules to follow about yelling racist things at the players of color, and it wasn’t just the fans, but the referees and opposing players too, this has been happening ever since segregation was stopped in europe. In an article from the website, The Conversation, Anne Gillet says, “One of the worst things about this racism was how predictable it was. Racism has long been found in European sports, and is intensified when players of color are put in the spotlight during major international competitions.” (Gillet 1),  for example, Mario Ballotelli, an African-Italian football/soccer player, he was a great player while he played in the big leagues, but was yelled at for being black, and they called him “the biggest flop”, all because of his race, whenever he scored a goal (which happened a lot) he showed his undershirt that said “Why Always Me?”, because they’re always insulting him. He’s now known as the mentality monster, because whenever he was targeted in matches, his career just started going downhill. Vinicius Jr. is also a football/soccer player, and he’s a new victim of this racism, and his career has just been rising, he’s only 22 years old, and his skill is growing, but the fans retaliate and insult him calling him a monkey and trying to hurt his feelings to bring his career downhill. But it’s not just him, “In Spain, this structure has been allowed to develop over the years and it hasn’t been challenged,” Ibarra also says, “You often have an individual judge, who is linked to a local authority or a regional authority, who then sits as a quasi-judicial figure instead of a disciplinary committee or regulatory commission, which is what happens in other countries.”(Ibarra 2),  which means, nothing at all has happened towards the racism towards Vinicius, or anybody at all. The people in charge of the policies and looking out for vile yelling are not doing anything but receiving complaints and throwing them in the trash. A Professional Journalist for the European Union is also on this issue, he says, “It is also important to make a clear distinction between deliberate discrimination (in sports clubs, at sports venues, etc.) and the feeling of being discriminated against, which some individuals and communities may experience more strongly than others.”(Katsovara 2), because some players can ignore the fans, but who knows what they’re actually thinking, and we will never know unless they announce it or their mentality visibly changes.

Discrimination in football/soccer affects players of color and it creates issues for individuals and causes complaints in leagues. La Liga Santander, the top division football/soccer league in Spain, is also the top division for racist fans and receiving the most complaints on them. There have been many racist referees, and complaints submitted by players on them, and there have been many racist fans that complaints of disturbance have been submitted by other fans and players too. It’s not just in La Liga though, not too long ago, a player of color, Kylian Mbappe went through a racist referee, he was called for many fouls (that weren’t committed) and called for offsides many times when he was not, all to prevent him from glory and winning, Mbappe hasn’t faced much racism, but you could tell it affected his mood as he missed a freekick and a penalty (not just saved by the goalkeeper) the match after, which isn’t normal for him (He returned to normal the next game). Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp defended Vinícius ahead of his team’s 5-2 loss to Madrid in the Champions League on February 21st 2023, when the Brazilian forward scored twice.“I hope he’s not fussed by any idiots who say something about him,” said Klopp. (AP-News 2). It wasn’t just then when Vinicius was targeted though, he was also targeted in league matches, which as long as you were above 17th place, the only thing your team had to worry about was reputation. There was an upcoming match that was Atletico de Madrid vs. Real Madrid, and the manager of Atletico released a tweet that said if Vinicius scored and danced, there would be a problem. In that match however, at that match, there was an investigation into racist chants, “You are a monkey, Vinícius, you are a monkey,” aimed at Vinicius before and during Real Madrid’s match against Atletico, LaLiga told CNN that the local Madrid prosecutor didn’t pursue the case because the yells were within the context of other “unpleasant and disrespectful” chants during a “football match of maximum rivalry.”

Vinicius then did what Atletico’s manager said not to, he danced, but it wasn’t out of spite, it was to show he didn’t care about the racism, but his teammates were getting mad for him, which caused many fouls out on the field, which is a bad reputation for players and the team(Grez 2).

All football/soccer players of color have a smaller wage amount than non-players of color. The highest paid football/soccer player is Cristiano Ronaldo, a white man. Ronaldo is paid about $200 Million a year, yes he’s a great player, but there are players who are just as good as him, but are paid less, by a big difference too, those players tend to also be people of color. For example Sadio Mane is a great player, and has scored many goals helping his team drastically, but he’s only paid $21 Million a year, and it’s not just the club’s budget either, they are the third richest club in Europe, Bayern Munchen, While Ronaldo and Mane may play for different clubs, it’s not just them who have a difference though. Kylian Mbappe, the best player in the world right now, does have a big transfer fee, and he’s the highest paid player of color, but he’s still only paid about $71 million, which is a $129 Million difference, and PSG (Mbappe’s club) is the richest club in Europe (salary budget, not transfer budget). Professor Rober and Loris from Sacred Heart University say, “All different sports throughout the world display a preference towards either one race or another and even have a type of favoritism that contributes towards a wage-pay gap for all professional sports players.” (Loris, Rober. et al. 1). Equality clearly needs to be increased, nobody capable of making this happen has done anything. Players standing up for teammates or other players have commented on this, but it’s not common, but I’m sure that players have talked to their manager pretty frequently. In every European country, there’s a wage gap between players of color and non-players of color, and it’s very unfair, because it doesn’t have to do with skill for a majority of the players. Inside the Premier League, the top division in England, the top best players are Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah. Salah is Egyptian, and Haaland is Norwegian, and that doesn’t make a difference for anything but pay for some reason, Professional Journalist Adi Gaskell says, “Pay differentials are also common in the wider economy, with data from the Office for National Statistics revealing an almost 20% pay gap between white players and Black players in the UK.”(Gaskell 2), which is just an average, and the percentage is higher if we are counting all of Europe. The reason white and black players have a 20% gap in the UK is partially because of skill, but also because of race, which shouldn’t have anything to do with what they are paid. Since the League or Team/Club president(s) aren’t doing anything about this, more people are speaking out, trying to make a change, and some of it is even impacting the bigger organizations like The Union of European Football Associations and the European Union. 

Referees and fans have been seen/caught multiple times being unfair to players of color. Referees are a big thing in football/soccer, or just sports in general, and without them, sports would probably be the most complicated thing ever. Yes, there are exceptions for bad referees, or unfair due to them having a team preference, but there is no exception for an unfair referee due to the player's race, because there is no good reason to be unfair because of race. The thing is, this wouldn’t be a problem if things were done about this, as in policies being made and new rules on the pitch, but instead people are acting like they had no idea, when they clearly do, some of them even support the racist acts. (As in doing it too). With policies, maybe referees would be replaced if seen making unfair statements and calls towards players of color, and maybe even change the referee’s mind. Referee bias isn’t uncommon, it’s probably more common than uncommon, really, but it’s not just for things we could pass with “They support one of the teams playing, so they’re unfair to the opponents.”, yes that does happen, but when referees are unfair to both sides , the referee most likely has a prejudice against players’ race. In football/soccer, there is something called V.A.R, which is a Video Assistant Referee, and it’s used when the referee on the pitch couldn’t see the play or tackle right, and needs help determining what will happen, Abi Gaskell from Forbes says, “However, when it was clear that a foul had been committed, referees were much quicker to come to that conclusion when it was a Black player making the tackle.”(Gaskell 2), but if it was vice versa, the referee would call V.A.R, not call the tackle, or have difficulty calling the tackle (on discriminatory referee circumstances.). With policies, the referee would have to call it or call up V.A.R for both sides. While there are many possibilities, this is the most common one, considering when it happens, those reasons are almost always it. In the EURO Final of 2020, this was also an issue, it contained the fans’ and the referee’s racism, which got the attention of, “Conservative politicians, including prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel refused to condemn this booing, which many believe provided implicit consent for the unedifying scenes after the country's defeat in the final to Italy, when Black players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka received a torrent of racist abuse online for the penalties they missed in the match.”(Gaskell 1). Considering nothing has been done about this, the ones responsible for calming down negative behavior inside of football/soccer obviously won’t be the ones taking care of it. It seems like the presence of racist refereeing is in denial by everyone but the players and fans. In the end, the people who want something done don’t have the authority to do anything, so we have to convince or impact the ones in charge.

Teams and fans have been hurt and conflict has risen in/for them because of teammate/player discrimination and excluding. For team fans, there's a rare chance that they’ll get suspended/banned for a certain amount of time for what they say and shout at matches depending on how much the team pays attention to this issue. Fans aren’t the only ones with match bans or team suspensions though, the players make the decision to be racist, exclusionary and discriminatory as well. With policies, referees should have the task of listening to the players, what happens when, before and after fouls are made, and what is said when players are being aggressive to each other. The result of these policies should be a yellow card, like what happens when trash talk happens towards the referee, it should be the same circumstances for players. Qualified AP-News employees say, “There has been little punishment for hate attacks against soccer players in Spain, though recently Valladolid suspended 12 season ticket holders while investigating their alleged use of verbal abuse against Vinícius.”(AP-News 1). The common sense policies we have are dealing with a little of it, but this is still only one team. With extended/upgraded policies, with the suspension, the addition should be the chants and verbal abuse will end up stopping and not be much to worry about from that point on. Suspensions do help, yes, but they don’t always convince the fans to stop whenever they come back from their suspension, so when they come back they just go back to chanting and shouting racist things again, and it’s a while until or if they even do get a permanent ban. Other than fans, opponent players have made rude and racist comments on the pitch, and teammates have also made them to players, this has resulted in club transfers or falling mentalities. It doesn’t just affect the players though, it affects team success, league popularity and league+team budget, CNN article writer, Matias Grez says, “Powar says the way football and legal authorities in Spain deal with incidents of racist abuse at matches has led to the ‘system falling apart’ in the country.”. If this issue isn’t stopped or addressed, football/soccer will eventually, but slowly, crumble to the ground. It may not even have to do with popularity, just with business and players of color careers, I am not saying players of color are the only players who matter, but they are part of football/soccer, and if no policies are made there will be no chance of countering this issue.

Racist and discriminatory acts have occurred in football/soccer matches since stadiums were a thing, and will continue to exist until steps are taken to make this issue non-existent. When this issue is brought up, some people are clueless about it, some are against it, and some may be with it. The main problem is nothing is being done, and fans think it’s completely okay since they don’t get any sort of punishment, so they just continue to do it. Fans aren’t the only ones doing it though, the referees do this too, punishing players of color for something they didn’t do/punishing them too far for something they did. One solution to stop this is to make stricter policies. Sure, there are policies about this already, but they aren’t enforced and definitely not at the top of the list. Another solution would be to make back-up referees, and actually make sure the ref’s calls are accurate and not just because they have a prejudice against people of color. There are many situations/scenarios where this can happen, and we won’t be able to stop them all, but with policies, this issue will likely die down and only pop up here and there, not all the time like it does today. The more people who care about this issue, the faster it will be fixed, and if we don’t do anything about it soon, it will spread and spread until it’s pointless to try and stop it. The Union of European Football Associations(UEFA) and the European Union(EU) need to act soon in-order to create policies to put an end to racism in football/soccer and increase equality for players of color.

Works Cited

Grez, Matias, “Vinícius Jr. is being racially abused during LaLiga matches. Why is nobody being punished?” CNN News, May. 2023,


Katsarova, Ivana, “Fighting Discrimination in Sports” European Union, Jul. 2021,


Anne Gillet, Rachel, “Racism in sport: why it comes to the surface when teams lose”, The Conversation, Jul. 2021,


AP News, “Spanish league files new complaints for racist insults” AP News, Feb. 2023, 


Gaskell, Abi, “Work Still Required To Root Out Discrimination From Football” Forbes, Jul. 2021


Loris, Rober et al. “How Does Gender and Race Discrimination Produce a Wage-gap Pay in Professional Sports and Its Effects?” Sacred Heart University, Dec. 2021


The author's comments:

This is an opinion/social justice essay on Discrimination in Sports, mainly football/soccer though.

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