Boateng received overwhelming support – campaigners, the UN, UEFA, FIFA and fellow footballers around the world. A few months after the incident both UEFA and FIFA adopted anti-racism resolutions outlining clear guidelines to deal with racist incidents. Referees were empowered to take action to halt or even abandon matches. Football associations were responsible for enforcing the regulations at national level.
So why in Italy this weekend, roughly four years after the Boateng incident and more than eight years since the UEFA protocol for referees was first introduced, did a match referee and then a commission of enquiry fail Sulley Muntari? Why did they blame the victim for having his human dignity degraded by others?
After being racially abused with monkey noises in the first half by a section of Cagliari fans, which are clearly heard on live broadcast footage of the incident, Muntari tried to talk with fans in the section from where the abuse came from. He saw a child with its parents and offered his shirt as a way to engage.
The abuse continued in the second half. Muntari kept up his dialogue with some of the spectators. He then approached the referee, twice. Watch the video footage of these approaches, he is pleading, pointing to his forearm, telling them “black is my colour”. The pleadings are difficult to watch.
After his protests are ignored and he is given a second yellow card for dissent, Muntari walks off the pitch in protest, an act that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described as “an inspiration”.
With admirable speed, or perhaps undue haste, a Serie A disciplinary commission announced a decision on the case within 48 hours. Muntari was banned following the sending off and although the commission found the racism directed at him “deplorable” their guidelines meant it could not impose sanctions because “only around 10 supporters were involved, fewer than 1% of the Cagliari supporters in the ground”.
They made it worse by citing a silent protest that was under way by some fans, which they say made the chanting more audible.
The Commission enters dangerous territory with this decision. Proportionality is an accepted principle of law but so is the principle of “causation and harm”. Even if there were only 10 involved in the abuse the impact of their actions has caused immeasurable damage.
And the monkey chanting can be heard clearly on the footage, it was being broadcast to the whole of Italy, to argue that a insignificant number of people were involved increases the damage.
It is no secret that Italian football has suffered from racism for years, they are not the only ones and it has got better, but incident after incident presents itself, from all quarters, all types of stadiums. Decisive action needs to be taken to show what can be done, in our view the FIGC (Italian FA) should start by reviewing the decision to suspend Sulley Muntari; and then reinforce the three-step protocol. Someone needs to ask the match referee why he ignored a player pleading with him and did not use it.
The FIGC are involved in some admirable educational work, but is it enough? And are the procedures for dealing with racism and discrimination across all leagues, including amateur tournaments, fit for purpose?
It should be noted that in the same judgement as the Muntari case the disciplinary body announced two big sanctions (partial stadium closures) for racism against Inter and Lazio. Albeit they were suspended. So it becomes difficult to make the case that the Italian authorities do not have this on their radar. It’s just that they seem to keep missing the point.