Dear FIFA: It’s Time to Investigate Racism in South America

Photo Credit: Independent

It has happened again.

For the third time in the past year, we have had an instance of a South American footballer choosing to use the slanty eyes gesture towards Asian fans (South Koreans in particular). It’s not stopping and it’s only getting worse. This time it was Diego Maradona, the living legend of Argentine football, choosing to use this racist gesture while interacting with some Korean fans at the Argentina-Iceland match in Russia. He was sitting near the press box and two presenters for British television were shocked by what they saw.

Before we go any further, I’d like to link to our other posts detailing the racism incidents in the past year for those who haven’t been following these developments. At the U20 World Cup last June in Korea, a Uruguayan player named Federico Valverde used the slanty eyes gesture in a goal celebration in Daejeon. Then, in a friendly match with South Korea last November in Suwon, Edwin Cardona used the same racist gesture after a scuffle late in the match (he was suspended for five matches by FIFA). We’ve said it before and we will say it now, these types of incidents are unacceptable and it is past time that FIFA did something about this. This is a racist gesture. Full stop. FIFA needs to step in and educate those who are unaware that this gesture should no longer be tolerated in football.

With what has happened at the match between Argentina and Iceland, it now has to become a full priority for FIFA to investigate this racism and decide on a plan moving forward. Diego Maradona is an ambassador of the game worldwide and for him to behave in this manner is shocking. The context provided by the presenters is very important here. Both Jacqui and Seema acknowledge how excited the South Korean fans were to see him and how they asked for a picture. First, Maradona responds with a kiss and a wave and then he makes this racist gesture. What this says to me is that he isn’t meaning it as racism.

This is the key point and one that lots of people from South America have been making in the past year. When the Uruguayan player did it, he explained it was a playful gesture about his agent who was nicknamed El Chino (the Chinese man). When Edwin Cardona did it, his coach claimed it was during a physical altercation and these things happen in heated matches. The linking factor with Maradona is that those from South America seem to not understand that this is considered racist to Asians around the world.

I want to talk a little bit more about the Cardona incident because his punishment actually raised some legitimate concerns in South American football circles. Let’s look at this tweet and story from Tim Vickery, a respected football  journalist covering South American football, on the incident:

We all decried the language used in the tweet itself, as the gesture is not a “silly little racist gesture”, but the story he wrote and his response to the criticism were very instructive. He mentioned how the five game ban that Cardona faced kept him out of the friendlies that Colombia played in March, which were key to Jose Pekerman’s preparations for naming the World Cup squad. Because of Cardona’s absence, Juan Fernando Quintero stepped in and asserted himself in those matches and Cardona missed out on the World Cup. Vickery received a lot of criticism, myself included, but he responded with class to explain that he felt the punishment was justified and should be used as an example to South American players. With another incident on the world’s biggest stage, it is time for FIFA to step in and take Vickery’s advice.

FIFA should first speak with the fans and media who saw the racist incident from Maradona to get their side of the story. Maradona should also be asked to provide his side of the story and explain his intention when he used that gesture. If he meant no harm by it, FIFA must make him aware that he was wrong and he shouldn’t use that gesture in the future. I’ll be keeping an eye on this story and I hope to see FIFA and Maradona making a statement of apology for this behavior.

In addition, I think it would be great for someone like Maradona to become involved with an education campaign to teach players from South America and worldwide that this kind of racism will no longer be tolerated. The influence that Maradona has would be immense in helping fans and footballers alike to understand that what could be meant as an endearing or funny gesture is really offensive to the people that it is aimed at.

It’s time FIFA. We’ll be watching.

About Michael Welch 89 Articles
That Halfie Korean-American who loves football (I mean, soccer).


  1. Not making any excuses or apologies for Latin America. Racism is racism. But just some perspective since I lived there for a bit. Latin America in general has a very politcally incorrect culture. True, the slant eyes is not considered bad there, nor is calling anyone who is Asian “chinito” (translation: little Chinese person). Nor is calling a black person “negrito” (translation: little… well, you can probably guess). Not only casual racism, but comments about appearance- calling a chubby girl “gordita” (translation: little fat girl) is completely fine and common. Actually, the majority of people would use these as terms of endearment! I mean, my friend with African ancestry would be “mi amigo negrito” (my little ____ friend). That’s your friend, and I can’t say this with 100% certainty obviously, but typically those friends are not offended.
    In many ways, even Korean culture is like this. They are pretty honest and talk about appearance a lot. They may not necessarily consider it wrong, but outside of Korea it could be considered racist or bad.

    I live in the US now as a Korean American, and the U.S. just views racism so differently for a variety of reasons that I don’t think I need to go into. But basically, it is a culture looking for every racist/offensive tendency and jumping at it- right or wrong. People can get fired for saying some of the things I mentioned in the above paragraph. Can you imagine at work calling a girl “my little chubby friend” in English? Good God I cringe just to think about the backlash. Even saying “he’s my black friend”, even from a place of love, just sounds bad. But in Latin America, it’s almost expected (and it would be in Korea as well). There’s a certain naivety that exists in those countries that really can’t exist in the U.S. (I keep referencing the U.S…. that’s all I know- I really don’t know how it is/should be viewed in Europe). I assume that FIFA wants to view racism the same way we would view it in the US.

    Bottom line: in an international competition, everyone has to play by the same rules, and we need to hold everyone to the same standard. I’m pretty sure if someone from the US National Team did the slant eyes, or a white player doing something racist against a black player, those players would be gone because we hold them to a certain standard. But we’ve seen time and again that different people are held to different standards depending on where they’re from. We’ve seen it just last year at the World Series, a Cuban player did the slant eyes at an opposing Japanese baseball player. He did technically get punished, but it was a tiny punishment (he was allowed to play in the remainder of the World Series, so… basically no real punishment). That was on the biggest stage, and it drew attention, but really nothing came of it. I’m pretty sure if a white player had done that, he wouldn’t have been allowed to continue to play in the the remaining World Series games (let’s be honest..)

    But the excuse about culture and doing it to friends doesn’t really hold in some of the examples we’ve seen recently. Pretty sure the Cuban baseball player was trying to talk shit about the Japanese player (he was on the opposing team and just hit a home run off him). Last fall, Edwin Cardona did it not in a friendly way- he was angry at us for taking a 2-0 lead, and was trying to criticize the player he directed it towardds (can’t remember who). BUT his punishment kept him out of the WC, which is pretty huge. And Maradona- well, who knows with that guy. He could have done a line of coke before the Korean fans waved at him. I think the slant eyes needs to be addressed because it’s happening more and more and it’s becoming more visible (I’d be willing to bet we’ll see a Mexican player do it if we frustrate them in our game next weekend.. we’ll see).

    A final note- I keep bringing this up, but if we’re gonna get angry about racism, we gotta watch our own players. Ki did the monkeyface against Japan and we all know they are rivals and he did it in a negative way. But he wasn’t punished, and not many people talked about it. As someone who is quick to criticize Korean racism, I noticed it immediately but wasn’t surprised that nobody cared. Barely anyone outside of East Asia watched that game. But by my rule book, he should have been punished!! We have to be prepared to hold every player to the same standard… but that’s gonna be hard to do! It’s a big world out there with a lot of different cultures.

    Again, not a latino apologist, but just trying to give some perspective.

  2. OKAY I’M SO MAD. I had a great reply and WordPress just ate it up, for christ’s sake

    So. I’ll write it shorter. I agree with you and Michael for sure. I’ll sum up my three points.

    1) when i went to haiti on a cultural exchange (NOT a humanitarian trip lol) last year i was at times called some creole version of El chino and got the slanty eyes once or twice by some kids. also, girls were catcalled and whistled at. the airport was very pushy. we heard peopel mumbling “moun blanc moun blanc” (white people white people) when we walked around the village.

    we also had to cover our elbows (no short sleeve shirts), wear long pants and go visit the village elders because that’s what people expected us to do.

    it’s their culture. not ours, we’re not they’re to change it. so was i annoyed/surprised by some of these things? sure. were some of them racist? absolutely. but more specifically re: the slanty eyes, was i offended? no.

    because the intent wasn’t to be offensive. it was a joke, they were laughing at our differences rather than laughing at me because i was different and had to be ostracized as a consequence.

    in that light what Valverde did probably wasn’t as bad. if we’re going to call it racist (it’s a loaded term) then at least we have to recognize it wasn’t with intent. And I’ve learnt a lot on latin american culture since i wrote that piece in june of last year (man last year already?!), so it doesn’t really accurately reflect my current view.

    that said, what maradona and cardona did are different. cardona meant to be racist and offensive and hurtful. he knew that that gesture was hated. maradona… should know better. as a FIFA ambassador. basically, on a Valverde to Cardona spectrum of Latin American casual racism, Maradona probably falls in the middle. He should apologize and FIFA should say something, but let’s be honest FIFA won’t because they’re blowing Putin and then the Qatari princes. i’m no defender of western imperialism, but at least we have legal safeguards for LGBTQ+ people and don’t enslave north koreans to build our stadiums and die.

    basically, i think michael and you are both right. dk if you’ll both agree, but it’s not our place to change south american culture. it is our right to say “that’s offensive, don’t do that” at a big stage. and people should learn from it, and pretty fucking soon.

    in all of this we’re forgetting the discrimination LSW was facing in Italy. that’s just downright racist. and i’m fucking glad he’s not just taking it and standing up for himself.

    thanks for the comment! (this ended up being as long as the first one lol)

  3. Y’all half existing Latin American racism is plain silly. I’m very familiar with Latin culture. Michael is right. Whether they mean it as racist or not is besides the point. It IS Racist. Intent has zero to do with it. White people are unintentionally racist ALL THE DAMN TIME. It doesn’t mean it’s less racist. It just means there’s at least a chance for education to bring about change. And as for changing others’ culture, hell yes I’m gonna change it if it is RACIST. Most Latin American racism comes from complete ignorance rather than hostility, but are y’all saying if we called every Latino a Mexican that isn’t racist?

    As for the monkey thing that’s not even remotely the same thing. It’s deplorable and childish, but it isn’t racist. First of all, Koreans don’t have stereotypes of Japanese as monkeys, so in that case, Ki is just being an asshole. But, secondly, contextually, Korean antipathy towards the Japanese is not about race, but primarily about reaction against the colonial and imperial history. Are Koreans racist, too? Yea. However, I’ve yet to see racism come out from Korean players.

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