On Tuesday night, in the aftermath of Istanbul Basaksehir and Paris Saint-Germain showing the football world that the ‘zero tolerance’ approach to racism isn’t just an empty phrase by walking off the pitch during the first half of their Champions League game, came the typical defences to a racial incident.
Pierre Webo, the former Cameroon striker and assistant coach to the Turkish side, was being identified by the fourth official, Sebastian Coltescu, during a conversation with the referee.
It is what Webo, Demba Ba as well as other players and staff initially thought they’d heard.
Immediately, there were people on social media pointing out the distinction between the two. The officials could also be heard explaining that ‘negru’ is not considered an offensive word in Romanian.
There are a few things to unpack, but to do so, we need to understand what was said by Coltescu to the referee, Ovidiu Hategan, and how it was said:“The black one over there. Go and check who he is. The black one over there, it’s not possible to act like that.”
Webo is a former international player and the assistant coach of a Champions League team, but the descriptor used for him was the colour of his skin. “The black one.”
Not only does it diminish his standing, it is disrespectful.
Some of the rebuttals doing the rounds is that it was a very easy way to differentiate Webo, and this in essence, is part of the problem. He has been reduced to his skin colour because he is in the minority, which also speaks to football’s wider issue of lack of representation beyond the pitch.
Another popular retort has been, “I wouldn’t care if I was called ‘the white one.’ Yes, because that does not come with the weight of your race being persecuted for centuries, sold to slavery and still being at huge disadvantages due to structural imbalances.
It is a false equivalence and is wilfully ignorant. Read also nonsense like: ‘How is it different to saying ‘the one in red or the one in glasses or the tall one?’
We do not get to tell Webo, Ba or others who took offence to it how they should feel about it. We do not get to dictate what people of colour see as crossing the line, as disrespectful to them on account of their race. The same applies to individuals being othered based on gender, sexuality, religion or any other discriminatory factor.
We cannot strip language of their historical ties and we need to move away from listening to people who insist on what is culturally acceptable terminology where they’re from if they are not part of the minorities that the words are directed toward.
Whether Coltescu was intending to cause offence or not with the way he invoked ‘negru’ is inconsequential. As the Romanian Anti-Discrimination Council chairman stated: “It’s racism without any possibility of interpretation. He could have identified (Webo) by so many other details other than his colour.”
At the Parc des Princes on Tuesday night, nothing spoke louder than both teams being unified in walking off the pitch and then forcing a change of match officials from Uefa in order for the game to continue.