By Musa Touray
When I saw France’s penalty squad entirely constituting black players at the final of the recently concluded World Cup, I was not happy with the composition even though I was rooting for Argentina, itself a country infamous for Black antipathy. I not only expressed my discontent at this decision but also prophesied the barbaric racism it could instigate among disgruntled fans if France lost to Argentina, as it eventually turned out.
The sole reason a legion of black football enthusiasts supported Argentina against France is their desire to see their football idol Lionel Messi win the World Cup and nothing else. The country has not done anything to deserve the symbolic outpouring of support from its African (black) fan base.
If anything, it’s the memories of affliction that Argentina meted out on their progenitors which continue to linger in their minds. History has it that the country is an inveterate anti-Black establishment that was said to have at least once led a crusade to exterminate its black residents.
In a December 19, 2022 article titled “Messi’s emilokan – In Touch,” Sam Omatseye, a renowned Nigerian columnist for The Nation newspaper, wrote, following Argentina’s World Cup victory against France, that he “wanted France to beat Messi’s country, if I had a heartbeat for Messi’s game. It is a nation that never liked blacks. While Brazil is content to place its dark people in its ghettoes and salve its conscience by cultivating its Peles, their southern cousins decided to wipe them out. In a whitewashing sweep, they removed every trace of black people from their soils.”
“They did not only cleanse the blacks out of their lands, they whitewashed its telling. They do not want even their forbears to know what happened. Today’s Argentines do not learn that aspect of their butchery. They were the ancestors of Hitler. But no one can deny the story. Some of their leaders are even proud of it. One of their former presidents, Carlos Menem, once quipped: ‘In Argentina, blacks do not exist; that is a Brazilian problem.’” He added.
Now that black fans—and of course, other fans—have their aim fulfilled in wanting to see Messi win the World Cup over his stiff competitor Ronaldo, most of them will not be rooting for Argentina ever again in light of the foregoing narrative.
Following England’s Euro defeat in 2020, its trio of black players, in the persons of Marcus Rashford, Jardon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, were cursed with excruciatingly racist invectives laden with all sorts of disgusting stereotypes. They were called monkeys, as if not humans. They were asked to return to their ancestral countries as if England was not where they proverbially had their umbilical cords interred.
When Saka, Rashford and Bellingham made a name for themselves by performing excitingly and scoring goals at the recently concluded World Cup, they were lionised and extolled to the skies. Their identity and colour did not matter. They were more English than their colour could conspire to deny. Hence the caption of this article cannot be more befitting.
England progressed into the tournament—thanks to the awe-inspiring performance of their goalscoring black players—until everyone thought they would have the trophy. At last, Harry Kane’s missed penalty shoot defied people’s expectations. France knocked England out. Unlike Rashford, Sancho and Saka, Harry Kane was not subjected to any racial abuse. He survived the not-so-extreme heat of the moment.
The story would be different if a Rashford kind of player missed that penalty if the wont of English fans is anything to go by. His colour, although innocent, would have risen the anger and agitation to an unimaginable frenzy. It would invite the verbal causticity of the ungrateful trolls of a fan and pique the online devil in them. But since Harry Kane is one of their kind, his penalty miss was understood to mean nothing but destiny.
French fans have also unfailingly shown the world their racial bigotry, prompting a black French player to disable his Instagram account after having had enough of their online enormity. They blatantly disregarded black players’ overwhelming contributions and numerical significance throughout the tournament.
Had they a pretence of gratitude, they wouldn’t resort to demonising their black players; yet, they would be busy trying to figure a way to canonise black players like Kylian Mbappé, who was literally the lifeblood of France in this World Cup.
Black players are, in other words, recognised and embraced when they pull stunning performances, ostracised and vilified when they do the contrary. It is nothing, as absurd as it sounds, other than the melanin that puts them at the receiving end of this insulting inconsistency of fans welled up in racism.
Musa Touray wrote from Sandu Kuwonku, The Gambia, via email@example.com.