We publish these articles from our series The Mark of Zoro again with sadness, as more than seven years have passed. Racism in football has yet to be tackled and conquered. The sanctions have proved inadequate.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar January 1st 2007
“Racism is the biggest problem facing football across Europe. People think that it has disappeared, but it hasn’t. It is time for all of us to take a stand – players, fans and authorities. It’s time to stand up and speak up.” : Thierry Henry
Outraged by persistent monkey-chanting Marc Zoro – yes Marc Zoro – decides that enough is enough. It is time to make a stand against racists in football. Zoro picks up the ball and heads for the officials. He will not allow the match to continue. The racist abuse has to stop or the match will stop.
On February 26th 2006 Barcelona’s Cameroonian international striker Samuel Eto’o made headlines for his stance against racism in football. Eto’o decided that he could tolerate the monkey-chanting and peanut-throwing from Real Zaragoza fans no longer. He began to walk off the pitch.
Opponents Ewerthon – himself the victim of racist abuse in other stadiums in Spain – and Álvaro joined Eto’o’s team-mates in pleading with him not to let the bigots win. He was persuaded to return by Frank Rijkaard – Barcelona’s coach. Rijkaard told Eto’o that the best way to beat the racists in Zaragoza’s La Romareda stadium was to beat their team.
Eto’o was persuaded to carry on, but it was clear that a defining moment in the fight against racism in football had been reached. Inspirational play-maker Ronaldinho scored a penalty and ran straight to Eto’o to celebrate with him even though Eto’o had neither scored the goal nor made it.
Ronaldinho had previously asked Eto’o not to walk off, but had assured the Cameroonian that if Eto’o refused to carry on, he would follow him off the pitch. Ronaldinho had unequivocally made his statement against racism in football as well. Eto’o made the second goal for Henrik Larsson.
Barcelona won the match 2-0, but Eto’o and football won a lot more. As he left the Aragónese team’s stadium he was greeted with yet more monkey-chanting. However, he had placed the issue of racism in Spanish football firmly back on the agenda in Spain.
And this was not the first time that La Romareda’s hardcore racists had targeted Eto’o. Although he did not score on this occasion, Eto’o scored in the same fixture the previous season. After being monkey-chanted then as well Eto’o celebrated the goal by mimicking a monkey. He had made his point.
So when was the Ivory Coast international defender Marc Zoro racially abused by the Romareda’s racist supporters? Actually it did not happen in Zaragoza. And nor did it happen in Madrid, Santander, La Coruña, Barcelona, Valencia or Seville either. In fact the racist abuse of Marc Zoro cannot be blamed on any Spanish fans.
Well if not Spain, which eastern European country was to blame? Wrong again. And this did not occur in Germany or the Netherlands either. English racists of the 70s and 80s can be blamed for much, but not this. Nor did this occur in Britain at any time. Zoro plies his trade for the Sicilian club Messina.
“We have had numerous cultural and historical influences,” says lawyer, author and B&B owner Gaetano Mustica. “They have shaped our development and made us the people we are.”
Generally bathed in sunshine – even in December – Sicily is an island that has much to recommend it. Its history boasts several influences. “We have had numerous historical and cultural influences over many centuries,” says author, lawyer and B&B owner Gaetano Mustica. “Everybody conquered us at some time. All of these influences have been incorporated into our consciousness. They have shaped our development and made us the people we are.”
The first major foreign influence was thought to be the Phoenicians – originally from Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon. They were among the greatest navigators and explorers of their age and adept as traders. In the eighth century BC they founded the city of Mozia (Motya) on the western coast, which would eventually be taken over by a colony that the Phoenicians had founded on the North African coast – Carthage.
Perhaps the most important city that the Phoenicians founded in Sicily was Panormus (Palermo). They also established colonies in Cyprus, Malta, Sardinia and Corsica. The influence of the Phoenicians has been largely underestimated, but in fact, they were far from the first of the great civilisations to reach Sicily’s shores.
Sicily was populated by the Sicans and Sicels – who had originally come from North Africa and southern Italy – when the legendary Cretan King Minos landed in hot pursuit of the craftsman Dædalos who had fled to Sicily to avoid Minos’ rage. Dædalos soon proved his worth to the Sican King Kokalos, designing a secure palace for the monarch to conceal his treasures. He had previously the labyrinth to imprison the mythical minotaur.
But Dædalos had fallen foul of Minos and the Cretan king demanded that Kokalos punish the master craftsman. Kokalos agreed and invited Minos to his palace and drowned him in his daughter’s bath when boiling water was thrown onto him. Claiming that it was an accident Kokalos gave the body to the Cretans who buried him nearby. Thus died Minos, the founder of the Minoan civilisation.
According to legend he would become one of the three judges of the underworld. The site of his tomb became a shrine which would eventually fall into disuse and be lost for centuries. In the fifth century BC Theron – tyrant of Agrigento – would discover Minos’ tomb and return his bones to Crete.
Sicily played a huge role in Greek mythology. The cities of Erice and Segesta were said to have been founded by refugees from the Trojan War – the Elymni who had come to Sicily from Asia Minor. According to legend Æneas himself – hero of Roman poet Virgil’s The Æneid – founded Erice.
And on the other side of the island Odysseus was said to have arrived. The island rocks off the eastern coast were said by the Greek poet Homer to have been thrown at the fleeing Odysseus by the man-eating one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus. Science tells us that the real culprit was the volcanic Mount Etna. Nevertheless, there is no question that Greeks had a major influence on the development of Sicily.
“To shout racist insults and to throw things at players is just savage behaviour,” said Marc Zoro. “Sometimes it’s even worse.”
Eto’o gained international plaudits for his stand against racism. It also had the effect of making him a target for racists. The bigots of Zaragoza targeted him. Monkey-chanting was known to offend him. Others tried it too. But the tide was turning against the racists.
He was monkey-chanted while playing against Racing Santander as well. In Zaragoza the referee had stopped the game to ask for an announcement demanding the racist abuse stop. It had the opposite effect. Santander’s racists had misjudged the times. A similar announcement resulted in the majority of Santander fans booing the racists.
Meanwhile, Eto’o continued to score goals and established himself as one of the most feared strikers in Europe. He demanded action on racism from both the Spanish Football Federation and journalists. There were plenty of articles as journalists belatedly took up the cudgels.
However, the Spanish Federation was lax in the extreme in dealing with this problem – a problem that could lead to an exodus of black talent from Spanish football if it was not dealt with. The Spanish government decided it was time to get tough.
And FIFA made it clear that racism would no longer be tolerated with its change to Rule 55. Eto’o had became the poster-boy of the fight against racism in football, but what about Marc Zoro? He has made a definitive stand against racism in Italian football.