Paris St. Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir BOTH walked off the pitch in Paris last night during a Champions League group stage match. The reason was to protest the fourth official’s use of racist language against Istanbul’s assistant manager Pierre Webó. When asked who should receive a red card, the fourth official allegedly said “ala negru” which in Romanian means, “to the Black”. Webó was livid when he heard that, demanding to know why the referee said “negru”.
Soon after, striker Demba Ba was captured by cameras standing up for his coach by telling officials, “You never say THIS white guy, you say this guy…so why when you mention a Black guy do you have to say THIS Black guy?” An official responded that it’s normal in the Romanian language. But both Istanbul and Paris’ players had heard enough and decided to leave the pitch.
Apparently, Kylian Mbappé – fresh from speaking out about racism and police violence in his own country – was one of the leaders telling his PSG teammates to follow Istanbul off the pitch. There will undoubtedly be pundits or commentators trying to explain this as a cultural misunderstanding and some of that may be true. But racism in football has been so common that Demba Ba’s words must be listened to and understood. Webó, a former Cameroonian international striker, had a long club career that saw him play in Uruguay, Spain and Turkey.
Being an African man, Webó has experienced racism throughout his career. In 2005, he was on the receiving end of racist chants from Atletico de Madrid fans while he was playing for Osasuna. In 2013, while playing for Fenerbahçe, he watched his own team’s fans racially abuse Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Eboue. These are just two public incidents that have been recorded.
That’s not even mentioning all the off the record or behind the back incidents that Webó and so many other Black footballers face everyday. And last night, that official disrespected Webó. The official’s intent doesn’t matter because the words he chose did damage. Webó’s experience and perspective matters. The words Demba Ba spoke last night matter. And Black Lives Matter. Last night, today, and everyday.