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FIFPro applauds the dignified reaction of both Jozy Altidore and Adam Maher, two professional footballers from Dutch premier league side AZ Alkmaar who were racially abused by so called supporters during a cup match.

 

On Tuesday January 29th, Maher and Altidore were abused by hooligans from FC Den Bosch, a second tier club in The Netherlands. In the opening minutes of the quarter final match, a group of spectators sang a racist song in which they were ‘mocking’ the Moroccan descent of Adam Maher, a 19-year old Dutch international, one of Holland’s biggest talents.

 

Then the ‘fans’ turned their attention to Altidore, a 23-year old black US national team member of Haitian descent. Each time he touched the ball they made monkey chants. Twice the stadium speaker urged the hooligans to stop their abuse, twice in vain. During halftime the director of FC Den Bosch took the microphone, stepped onto the field  and emotionally pleaded the crowd to behave.

 

The racist abuse stopped. However, in the second half the referee interrupted the match briefly after bottles and snowballs were thrown at one of his assistants. In the end, AZ easily beat the home team: 5-0. Altidore converted a penalty for the fourth goal.

 

Altidore told his side of the story to Sports Illustrated: ‘I started hearing it at the beginning [of the game, SI], and I didn't really know what they were saying. I thought it was just some type of chant for their team. But I started hearing it again every time I got around the ball. Then I understood clearly it was for me.’

 

Twice the referee asked Altidore if he should stop the game. Both times Altidore said ‘no’. ‘It's only going to make them stronger if we back down’, he replied to the referee. ‘I didn't want to empower them. Empowering them would have been walking off and saying, OK, you got the best of me, I'm done. I wanted to show them they couldn't hurt me. I wanted to win the game for my team.’

 

Altidore grew up in Boca Raton, Florida. ‘The way I was raised, we never looked at black and white. My family has always stressed to me, yes, you will come against things that are different for a young black kid growing up. Let's be honest about that, we're still not over that. But at the same time, they always told me you can't judge anybody by their color. You have to respect everybody for who they are and what they stand for.’

 

‘I just felt maybe that was left out for those [racist fans, SI] when they were brought up, or maybe it's something their families didn't focus on. I can't speak on their behalf, but I just have to hope they become better as people and improve themselves. At the end of the day, it's not going to help if you have grown-up men talking like that. Those guys in the stands, they have children, so it would help if they fixed that problem’, said Altidore, who added that he never had a ‘bad encounter’ before during his one-and-a-half year in Holland.

 

FIFPro admires the mature way Maher and Altidore handled the situation, says Tony Higgins, FIFPro’s spokesperson on anti-racism. ‘The testimony of Altidore is a lesson in humanity. To be subject to racist abuse as he was, and to act in such a dignified manner really underlines the futility of the racists in the stadium.’

 

‘His example along with AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng’s action recently, shows that black players will speak out, and speak out in such a manner that highlights the intellectual gap between them and the moronic football fans who abuse them.’

 

FIFPro expects the FC Den Bosch management and the Dutch football association KNVB to do their utmost to prevent incidents like these from happening again.

 

In the opinion of FIFPro, education is an important measure to help eradicate racism from football coupled with sanctions. There is no black and white in footbal only people, as Altidore taught us.