At around thirteen minutes into the UEFA Champions League final group stage game between PSG vs. Istanbul Basaksehir, something completely out of the ordinary happened. Ten minutes later the game was abandoned, with both sides walking off the field in protest at the fourth official. This article will break down everything that happened (from what we know), and explain why what happened was indeed racist and why this incident deserves the attention it is currently getting as an act of racism.
The first twelve minutes of the high stakes Istanbul-PSG match was fast-paced, aggressive and everything you’d want in a UEFA Champions League match. Unfortunately, it only lasted those twelve-thirteen minutes before getting very, very ugly. The first foul of the game occurred in the third minute when Rafael da Silva (formerly of Manchester United) went in rather overzealously on Neymar. Nine minutes later, Rafael went in again, this time on Mitchell Bakker and was booked for the challenge. It wasn’t that aggressive, but it was Rafael’s second late challenge in the span of twelve minutes and that likely played into his booking. Rafael’s second challenge also occurred only two minutes after his teammate Mahmut Tekdemir was booked for a challenge on…you guessed it – Neymar. Again, it wasn’t that bad of a challenge, but Basaksehir’s cumulative fouling on Neymar was beginning to add up. Much of this might seem irrelevant, but it certainly got the Basaksehir coaching staff fired up, and eventually earned their manager – Okan Buruk, a yellow card as well. So when one minute later from Rafael’s booking, Presnel Kimpembe went in hard on Istanbul’s Fredrik Gulbrandsen, the coaching staff were rightly upset and asked for the yellow card to be reciprocated for consistency.
The fourth official – Sebastian Coltescu, obviously felt threatened by this and called over the referee to send off Pierre Webo, former Cameroonian international and current Basaksehir assistant coach. In calling the main referee over (Ovidiu Haţegan), Coltescu used the term “negru” – apparently a Romanian word that means “black” to describe who he wanted sent off. Pierre Webo was obviously upset by this and questioned the referee “Why you say negro?” several times before eventually disappearing from the picture. This caused a stir among the players, who were rightfully upset with what they heard. Coltescu tried to justify his words by saying the word meant “black” and that he was simply describing who he wanted sent off, which only made things worse. Demba Ba stepped in to try and educate Coltescu by saying “You wouldn’t say “That white guy” so why say “That black guy.” Demba Ba then spearheaded a charge for both teams to leave the field, which many of the PSG players were fully behind right from the start. Mbappe, Neymar and Marquinhos were seen several times conversing with both the referee and the fourth official and it seemed as though both sets of players and the Istanbul manager were saying they didn’t want to play on with the match if the fourth official was not going to be punished or sent off for his actions. The discussions continued and it didn’t look like the players were going to be able to make their point in the way they wanted to, so they chose a different route and walked off the pitch. When asked why they were doing that or why the fourth official should be sent off, Buruk said “to make a point.” As the referee left the pitch he was asked what’s going to happen and he said “I don’t know.” The match had officially been abandoned.
WHY WHAT HAPPENED WAS INDEED RACIST
I’ve seen a lot of discussion on social media and in footballing group chats/communities about the incident and whether or not it was actually an act of racism. However, I fully believe this incident was an act of racism, regardless of intention, language and the referee not knowing any better. Why? Because when describing a person, there is no reason to lead with their skin colour. Coltescu could have easily said “That man” and pointed to Webo. He could have said “The man in the black jacket” and gotten his point across. Instead, he said “The black man” or “The black one”, which is always going to come across as though you are saying something negative about him being black. Being black is obviously a part of Webo’s identity. But it is not the only part of his identity and it is not the part of his identity that needed to be led with in that moment. Coltescu didn’t mean for “negru” to be a racial slur. He was, as one fan pointed out in a group chat, just describing who he wanted sent off. But he didn’t need to describe Webo by saying “the black man”. As Demba Ba pointed out “You wouldn’t say ‘the white guy’. So why say ‘the black guy?’. Also, even if it’s not meant to be a slur, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t. As many of the Istanbul coaches and staff pointed out, “It means the same thing everywhere. You cannot say that.”
Further, I also saw comments that said the players only escalated the situation by surrounding the referee and that it could have gotten more dangerous if fans were in the stadium. I think it is wrong to say that the players should have just let it slide in that moment and not have tried to educate and question the referee about his word choice, plus the decision to send Webo off. At one point, Buruk said to the fourth official “You are a racist. You sent him off because of his colour.” This likely was not the case. There’s no reason to think that Webo’s race did or didn’t play into his sending off. We simply wouldn’t be able to say one way or the other for sure. But what we can do is question the referee’s word choice and try and educate him. In that moment, that’s exactly what the players and coaching staff did and I commend them for doing so. Buruk for example knew that he’d already been booked and needed to tread lightly. But he didn’t. He took a stand, and spoke up. Demba Ba knew that he was only a substitute in the match and was not allowed to enter the field of play without the referee’s permission. But he didn’t care. He did so anyway and spoke to each of his teammates and the PSG players about why they should abandon the match. Everything the players and coaches did to surround the referees and not carry on with the match was really awesome to see in spite of a disappointing situation. The players and coaching staff were completely justified for the calm approach they took to handling the situation, trying to question and educate the referee for what seemed to be an act of racism, and later justified in their peaceful protest in walking off the pitch. Intention or language aside, the use of skin colour to describe who the referee wanted to have sent off was in fact unnecessary and racist.
Hopefully UEFA takes a stand in at least educating referees, players, coaches, etc., around the world on what can be said instead and why there is no need to describe someone by their skin colour in that kind of context. If they want to take an even more drastic stand, some personal consequences for Coltescu would certainly do the trick, and he should at the very least not be able to referee the replay of the game.
So there it is! Why what happened in PSG-Istanbul Basaksehir was indeed an act of racism and why the players were justified in walking off the pitch and taking a stand. Be sure to share your thoughts on Twitter @mastermindsite or in the comments below. Black Lives Matter and there is no room for racism in football. Not here. Not anywhere. Thanks for reading and see you soon.
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