By Muyiwa Adetiba
It was the best place to be on the night. To watch a high profile match without any vested interest. It meant there would be no anxiety. And no palpitating heart. There would be no chewing of nails or kicking against the poor stool, or worse still, knocking someone’s head as you tried to nod an imaginary ball into a seemingly empty net.
The ticking of the clock and the passage of time would be normal; it would not depend on the performance of either of the two teams since neither was my team. For me, last Sunday’s Euro 2020 finals between England and Italy was just another high profile match in which I had no sentimental attachment. If anything, I felt slightly irritated by the chants of ‘the cup is coming home’ among many English fans and media.
England had never won the European cup, so which home were the fans referring to? But then, followers of international football get used to such hysterics whenever England gets near the finals. England lives in the past in a way; celebrating a soccer supremacy it never really had and an economic glory it had long lost.
I had planned to watch it in a relaxed atmosphere with a bottle of red wine hoping it would be a good match that would linger in one’s memory for a while even when I felt the better teams had somehow fallen by the wayside. I certainly wasn’t planning on writing about it. My thoughts for the week’s column were forming around something closer home. Then the aftermath of England’s loss brought everything close to home when some black English players in the team were subject to vicious racial abuses because they missed their spot kicks. I can understand the emotional high the fans had worked themselves into. I can maybe understand the depth some of them might have fallen into at the narrow loss– I had been gripped with despair and melancholy myself on a few occasions in the past like most fervent fans.
Sometimes you feel the need to lash out and to blame someone, anyone, including the officials. But to vent all your frustrations and pour racial vitriol on the black players – one of them still a kid, under twenty; one of them among the best English players of the tournament; one of them earlier recognised by the Queen for his social works – was unforgivable.
These boys didn’t pick themselves. Their manager did. Probably because they were among the best in training. The pressure of taking a penalty kick at such a high profile match is enormous. The trauma of dashing the expectations of your team mates and your nation is equally enormous and will linger for quite a while on their psyche. Their team mates reached out in empathy. Their nation as represented by the fans did not. And that is the sad, sad part.
I wish one could say it was an isolated case as the media was trying to spin it. But we know that is not the case. What erupted last Sunday was a vent to a racial volcano that constantly simmers underneath. Even the media which is now trying to absolve itself was not even-handed in its coverage of the tournament. It has never been even-handed on the plight of black athletes during and after their performing years. How many black athletes are in management?
And what has the British press done to push for more black representation ‘upstairs’? The taking to the knees of athletes is a plaintive plea to be appreciated by the community in which they find themselves. Yet Boris Johnson and the Tory leadership think the action should be booed. To Johnson and his ilk, the job of the players is to go the field and perform like circus animals.
And to be racially whipped if they don’t perform to the satisfaction of their spectators. In these days of ‘Big Brother’ watching everything, the racial whipping would stop if those in authority stopped paying lip service to racism. The perpetrators could be named, shamed and sanctioned if there was a will to so do.
Black athletes and indeed Blacks in the diaspora have to be better than the average to be given a slot. And its difficult for an adult Black in Europe and America not to be conscious of the colour of their skin because there is always something to remind them of it. The minute they slip, they are dumped like a sack of rotten potatoes.
Anthony Joshua is now the British Heavyweight Champion of the world. But the minute he commits an embarrassing act, he becomes the Nigerian born British boxer. Just as Zidane the French icon and Ozil the German midfielder became Arabs when they stepped out of line. The Nigerians in the Biden Cabinet are now Americans doing high profile jobs. But the minute any of them slips up,they become Nigerian born Americans even if they have never visited Nigeria.
There seems to be a constant need to ridicule Blacks in the diaspora. I think it soothes the psyche of the White supremacist. In the same way, there seems a constant need to downplay the achievements of a Black person. I am not a great fan of Serena Williams for reasons outside of tennis, but there is no denying the feat she has performed or the heights she has reached in Tennis. Were the colour of her skin to be different, she would have long been hailed as the greatest female tennis player ever. As it is, she is struggling at age forty to get her 24th Grand Slam so as to be given a distinction that should have long been rightfully hers.
Africans are travelling to the diaspora in droves. Many sell all they have and arrive the shores with only the shirt on their backs. Then an insidious stripping starts. They are gradually stripped of their roots, their dignity and their self-esteem. They are made to pay obeisance to the masters who gave them a second chance at life. Then the psychological struggle to prove something to themselves, their masters and adopted countries starts in earnest.
The minute they fail, all the years of struggles are forgotten and are racially whipped like those English footballers. All of these are down to African leaders. The continent is richly endowed. More endowed than some of the places her children are migrating to. I have said it before but it bears repeating. Blacks will be respected when Africa begins to do things worthy of respect.
Then bigots like Trump will not refer to us as shit-hole. We are the ones short changing our children. We are the ones short changing our continent. We are the ones pushing our children to modern day slavery by refusing to provide for them. If only Africa can get her politics right. If only Africa can get her economics right. If only Africa can get her leadership right.