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.
I’m sat right next to Jacqui and saw Maradona’s gesture. He should know better. The lads filming him were so excited to get a picture of him and that was his response. Very Disappointing.
— Seema Jaswal (@meseemajaswal) June 16, 2018
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:
How a silly little racist gesture seems to have cost a player his World Cup place – from World Soccer;https://t.co/Kc5vDulllM
— Tim Vickery (@Tim_Vickery) June 2, 2018
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.