Sunderland's top striker, Gyan, speaks to SRtRC about racism and monkey chanting he has received whilst playing football
On Wearside, he is a goal-scoring hero idolised by a legion of football fans. But Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan has also seen the ugly side of the beautiful game while playing overseas.
The Ghanaian international, who today gave his support to the Show Racism the Red Card action group, has spoken for the first time about being the target of abuse and “monkey” noises at matches in Italy. While at Serie B club Modena, he was disgusted by the behaviour of a section of opposition fans, who aimed a volley of sickening chants at him.
“I remember when I played for Modena I experienced monkey chanting,” he said. “That game was 2-2 and when I scored they started calling me names like monkey, trying to imitate a monkey. I’m somebody who doesn’t look at those things. I just concentrate on the game.
“I had the same experience when I played for the same team against Verona. I think racism in Italy is a problem more so than in this country.
“I remember we played once, I didn’t score, but I had that experience. I didn’t hear what they were saying, but at the end of the game I read in the newspaper that they had been banned because they were insulting me.”
The 25-year-old, who includes former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela among his heroes, is urging Fifa, the world governing body of football, to do more to stamp out the problem.
“When I hear many people calling me names, like supporters – it makes me angry,” he said. “An individual cannot do it to my face, but they can do it amongst a crowd. And it’s frustrating. But if the fans do that, sometimes they do it to frustrate you because they want to win – they don’t mean what they’re doing. But on the other hand, some may mean it. So, for instance, when I’m playing, I don’t listen to the fans because I know they do many things to provoke you.
Craig Bankhead, North East education manager with Show Racism the Red Card, said he has been overwhelmed by the support from players.
“The Show Racism the Red Card campaign is based on utilising the high-profile status of professional sportspeople to combat racism in society,” he said. “Having stars like Asamoah Gyan talking about his experiences of racism both on and off the pitch allows us to communicate a message of anti-racism to young people. Our current DVD features Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and other internationally renowned football players who have given up their time to help tackle racism in society.”
Words: James Johnston, Sunderland Echo
Read the full interview with Asamoah Gyan!
Have you ever experienced monkey chanting at a football game?
“Yeah I remember when I played for Modena I experienced monkey chanting. That game was 2-2 and when I scored they started calling me names like monkey, trying to imitate a monkey. I’m somebody who doesn’t look at those things; I just concentrate on the game.”
Were there any experiences like this anywhere else in Europe?
“Yeah I had the same experience when I played for the same team against Verona. I think racism in Italy is a problem more so than in this country. I remember we played once, I didn’t score, but I had that experience. I didn’t hear what they were saying but at the end of the game I read in the newspaper that they had been banned because they were insulting me. I didn’t hear what they were saying but they were banned for 3 home games.”
You’ve said it doesn’t affect you mentally, are you able to block it out? How did it make you feel when you heard it?
“When I heard many people calling me names, like supporters – it makes me angry. An individual cannot do it to my face, but they can do it in amongst a crowd. And it’s frustrating. But if the fans do that, sometimes they do it to frustrate you because they want to win – they don’t mean what they’re doing. But on the other hand, some may mean it. So me, for instance, when I’m playing, I don’t listen to the fans because I know they do many things to provoke you.”
I said to you earlier on, Samuel Eto’o tried to leave the pitch once because of the constant racism he received. Is that something that you would agree with players doing?
“I didn’t witness that incident but I remember a game in Italy where Eto’o played against Inter Milan. He had to stop the ball and take the ball away, he was frustrated and said ‘that’s it, I’m not playing any more.’ It was something embarrassing, and sometimes people will tolerate it, sometimes people will not. If it’s constant as we are talking about with Samuel Eto’o, yeah he’s a big player, everybody will be talking about him, sometimes when it’s continuous, because I know Samuel Eto’o he’s someone who is very social. He always laughs but maybe it was going on too much and he had to take action – so I support that.”
Recently he’s moved to Inter Milan, he had problems there and the referee stopped the game and announced that the game would be stopped if the abuse continued. Do you think that’s a good way to handle it?
“Yeah I do agree with that. He’s doing something to stop racism because we as Africans came here for our professional career. We do help teams a lot but if people do just try to provoke you because of the way you are, its racism. And I think FIFA should take action on that, if maybe a fan or a club’s fans try to do something then they should get banned, that is my opinion.”
If someone was suffering racism in a school what would be your advice to them?
“I would say the teacher or headmaster should take action on that. Sometimes we go to school to study and sometimes we make friends but if someone makes someone else unhappy then the person could get frustrated and that is where problems will start coming. Maybe the person will not tolerate it and it could lead to violence because somebody can not control their anger and maybe he will try to hit somebody or something and it will lead to more problems. So I think the headmaster of the school should challenge that racism and make sure everybody is educated.”
Do you have any experiences of people receiving racism in every day life, outside of football?
“Yeah I do. If you’re a professional football player, particularly a big player, you’re a star. People see you and give you that respect. I remember when I went to a shop, the way the person was behaving, before the person knew who I was, he didn’t start giving me a good reception. But that is bad, black or white, we all deserve the same respect.”
Can you say something about how the World Cup affected the world’s perception of Africa?
“It was fantastic, the whole of Africa was expecting one day the World Cup would be hosted in Africa, and finally it happened. Everybody was happy about it. We Africans, we make sure we give a warm reception to everybody who comes and I think everyone who came to Africa enjoyed the reception.”
Do you think the World cup showed Africa in a more positive light than images that are normally associated with Africa?
“Yes because there were no problems throughout the tournament. Financially many countries are improving and everybody from all over the world was made to feel welcome in Africa.”
Would you like to say anything regarding Mandela?
He’s still a hero in Africa. Mandela is one of the men people love to see. I prayed very hard to see Mandela and finally I saw him in South Africa after the world cup. He’s done important things for South Africans. He fought very hard to teach unity. I would say most of the African countries, when they became independents they had to take all their foreigners out of the country but Mandela didn’t do that. That is why sometimes you have a lot of white people because he didn’t take everyone out, he tried to make unity between the black and white people and everything went on successfully. So I think he’s a great president and an idol. Everyone wants to see him, he’s a great man.
Would you recommend young players join the players Union?
Yeah I would recommend it it’s very important to show racism the red card I think we Africans also need facilities because we’ve got a lot of great players in football in Africa but we need the facilities if we support those things like education – sometimes people come to Europe and they don’t even know how to read their contracts – so I think education is key we have to make sure they get a good education and we make sure they are well educated.
Are you religious?
Yeah I’m Christian.
You’ve met people from all over world – is that something beneficial? Did you enjoy it?
Yeah it’s a better world to experience a lot of things. I’ve played in Italy and I’ve played in France. Each country is different so it’s interesting to see a different way of life. I’m now in England so I i think it is great to have lived in different countries and experienced different ways of life.