By Aliyu Yakubu Yusuf
Unless you don’t follow European football, you might have seen a viral video of a man of black ancestry kicking and slapping a cat inside what appears to be an apartment. That man is a French, West Ham footballer, Kurt Zouma. Since that video came to public consciousness, Zouma has been in the eye of the storm. When writing this article, more than 250,000 people have signed a petition calling for Zouma’s prosecution on account of animal abuse. And if that were to happen, he may be facing up to a 4-year prison sentence.
Again, Adidas, the famous German multinational sportswear conglomerate, have terminated their contract with him. And to add insult to injury, his club has fined him his two weeks’ wages. Of course, what Zouma did is indefensible in its entirety. As vulnerable as they are, animals, too, need to be protected from our cruelty. However, I believe that the whole incidence is being blown out of proportion.
When I first read the news, I assumed it was just another mundane story that would naturally wane away in a matter of days. But seeing how the story was trending on all news platforms, I quickly visited YouTube to watch the video. My impression at the time was of Zouma being overly aggressive towards the animal. This is largely down to the sensational headlines across several media outlets. After viewing the video carefully, I observed that the player was not violent towards the pet cat. His kick was just a mild one, attempting to chase the animal away. But is this the first time the Western media maltreat Blacks? No.
In 2013, the then Liverpool striker, Luis Suarez, was accused of racially insulting former Manchester United captain Patrice Evra. Suarez unequivocally admitted to using the word ‘negro’ (a term with a racist undertone) to refer to Evra. At that time, no one launched any petitions against Suarez. On the contrary, his Liverpool teammates even donned a commemorative shirt to support him, alleging that his remarks against Evra were taken out of context. And coincidentally, Suarez was also an Adidas player. However, Adidas felt no need to terminate Suarez’s sponsorship deal. Instead, they sent him a toothless warning, asking him to watch his future behaviour.
Similarly, Eden Hazard once kicked a ball boy and was only fined a paltry £250,000 and never lost his sponsorship. Harry Maguire was convicted for human assault and bribery in Greece but received only a suspended prison sentence. He neither lost his Manchester United captaincy nor any of his sponsorship deals as a result. These incidents beg the question, ‘is animal abuse more serious in Europe than human rights abuse’? Have all these events transpired the way they did because Suarez, Hazard and Maguire are all white, while both Evra and Zouma are blacks?
From Samuel Eto’o, Emile Heskey and Peter Odemwingie to Daniel Alves, Franck Kessie, and Raheem Sterling, the list of Europe-based black players subjected to monkey chants is endless. Ironically, sometimes the racist abuses were done by supporters of the very clubs for whom the players ply their trade. However, no clubs were ever punished by points deduction or even a severe fine to make the mean-spirited fans behave appropriately. No arrests, no stadium bans for the culprit and nothing. Compare this to another event late last year involving West Ham fans who were filmed on a plane chanting anti-Semitic songs at a Jewish man as he was boarding the plane. That incident generated wide condemnation. All the fans involved were promptly arrested. West Ham issued a public statement that squarely condemns all the perpetrators. A similar incident happened to a Chelsea fan who posted anti-Semitic tweets directed at a Tottenham player. He, too, was promptly arrested and prosecuted.
I am happy about how fans on Twitter quickly pointed out the hypocrisy of Adidas. This is a corporation that specialises in producing shoes from animals’ hides. Which animal has ever granted anyone permission to kill it and use its hide to make shoes? Who draws a line between right and wrong as far as animals are concerned? And where are the animal rights agitators when riders use canes (made from animal skin) to whip animals during horse racing? Besides, who has ever sought approval from any animal before he rides on it?
Look, I am not out to defend Zouma. He undoubtedly made a mistake, and that is beyond doubt. I only want to point out the double standard that has trailed this incident. Black players in Europe are adjudged on a different set of criteria. When they are racially insulted, they expect to look the other way and not be overdramatic or create an unnecessary scene. They are always expected to exhibit good behavioural conduct or risk facing social stigma. The mantra of ‘what is good for the goose is good for the gander’ does not apply to footballers of the black race.
Aliyu is a lecturer at the Department of English and Literary Studies, Bayero University, Kano. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.