Kevin-Prince Boateng has done what Mario Balotelli threatened to do at the Euro 2012 tournament. In response to racial abuse from a section of fans during a friendly match against Pro Patria, the AC Milan forward walked off the pitch, shortly followed by his team-mates. The game was abandoned soon afterwards.
There has been support for Boateng’s actions, with several players, fans, and members of the public sending their support to the Ghana player’s Twitter account. However, there has also been concern that his decision to leave the field will make the problem worse: that it will actually provoke fans to louder and more offensive tirades. In addition, there is worry that footballers are taking the law into their own hands, and that they and not the match officials will have the key say in when games should be called off.
I believe that this fear is overstated. Footballers, after all, want to play football above all else. I do not think we should expect a mass exodus from the pitch each week. Today’s act of protest by Boateng and his colleagues was certainly disruptive, as is the nature of all effective protest, but judging by the reaction of many on Twitter – among others, Vincent Kompany, Patrick Vieira and Rio Ferdinand – it was somewhat overdue.
The conversation has now moved on to what can be done to prevent racist chanting at football matches. This, of course, is a good thing. There was a time when foreign players did not have the leverage or the goodwill to encourage such a conversation. Now they do. Perhaps there has been complacency around this issue to date, with foreign players largely expected to accept dehumanising rants as part of the matchday experience. Yet just because they can play through these outbursts, it does not mean that they should.