In the face of racial discrimination in the stands and on the pitch, Sulley Muntari believes that the world of football will be a more united place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, CNN reports.
The Ghanaian , who plays for Pescara in Italy’s Serie A, is advocating change from football’s world governing body, and it’s European equivalent UEFA, to provide more support for players who have been racially abused.
Last month Muntari was racially abused by a section of the home crowd during a match against Cagliari. After pleading with the guilty section of supporters the international midfielder faced suspension after receiving a second yellow card for leaving the pitch.
Though the decision was later overturned, it exemplified the limitations put on racially abused players like Muntari who appealed to the referee to take action before taking matters into his own hands.
“I am pleading to FIFA, UEFA, whoever, (to) look into things like this, because, most (players) get abused but they can’t say anything,” Muntari told CNN Sport.
In Bahrain, the FIFA Council “expressed its concern at recent high-profile incidents of racism and emphasized that member associations and referees should be ready to adopt a strict policy to deal with incidents of racist nature.
It’s not just the level of support offered by the football authorities that has been troubling Muntari, who reveals that he received little support from his own Pescara teammates during and after the match.
“No one said anything and I wasn’t expecting anybody to say anything,” the 32-year-old says. “I look at certain things, I get really angry with them. Because your teammates are your family, (whether) you like it or not.
“You see them every day and for them to turn their back on you was something not very pleasant.”
Muntari approached a section of the stands where he says he heard racial chants and offered his jersey to a young fan as a symbolic gesture before storming off the pitch with just minutes left to play.
Match officials in Italy are required to temporarily stop play and issue warnings to put a curb on racist behavior. Muntari says the fourth official confirmed he heard abuse from a section of the crowd, but the second yellow card left him “feeling like a criminal.”
Muntari also points out that the appeal for his one match suspension was launched by himself, with assistance from the Italian Players’ Association, and not his club. Though Pescara manager Zdenek Zeman backed Muntari, he stopped short of applauding his decision to walk off.
“Muntari was right, but he shouldn’t have left the pitch,” he said. “It’s not up to us to dole out justice. We can talk a lot about it but then it must be left with the powers that be.”
Muntari, in his defense, says some things are more important than the rules of the game.
“This is my skin color here that we are talking about, you can’t say this to me,” he says. “I don’t know why, but I walked off. If I were in (the referee’s) shoes, I would stop the game, because that would set an example before the world.”
Just 13 months from now the World Cup will be hosted in Russia, a country that has received its fair share of criticism for racial abuse from its football stands.
In 2013, Manchester City’s star Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure was subject to racist chants from the stands at CSKA Moscow and voiced his disgust after the match.
“I’m not just disappointed, I’m furious,” he said, while suggesting that other black athletes would think twice before attending the 2018 World Cup. “If we aren’t confident at the World Cup, coming to Russia, we (won’t) come.”
Toure retired from international football in September, but Muntari does not want to see the hosts replaced, seeing the global tournament as an opportunity to introduce diversity to sections of the Russian population not accustomed to it.
“I think it is a good thing that Russia is going to host the next World Cup,” said Muntari.
“They will show that maybe all Russians aren’t racist. The world will see another part of Russia, and Russia will see another part of the world. They will mingle with different kinds of people, different kinds of states.”
Other players including Brazilian forward Givanildo Vieira de Sousa, better known as Hulk, Ghanaian Emmanuel Frimpong and former Brazil great Roberto Carlos — who twice had bananas brandished at him in 2011 — have complained about facing racial abuse in Russia.
Football watchdog FARE Network documented over 200 cases of racism in Russian football in a 2015 report.
Alexei Sorokin, the head of the body organizing the 2018 tournament, told FIFA’s congress that Russia will do its best “to ensure that every fan that comes is welcomed and has an unforgettable experience.”
Sorokin added: “Watch great football, in a big, hospitable, culturally multi-faceted country.”
Despite the closing of its anti-racism task force in September, FIFA insists that its work is not done.
“FIFA’s position on any form of discrimination is unequivocal: There is no place for racism or for any form of discrimination in football, as clearly described in the FIFA Statutes,” it said in a statement.
FIFA has also defended its selection of Russia, while appealing for all players to participate.
“History has shown so far that boycotting sports events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems,” it said in a 2014 statement.
“We can achieve positive change in the world, but football cannot be seen as a solution for all issues, particularly those related to world politics.”
Muntari appears to agree.
“FIFA has done well, because you can’t run from your problems. You have to tackle (them),” he says.
“I have no doubt that the World Cup there is going to be amazing, and is going to bring a lot of people together, and peace.”