Infuriated that he was treated like a “criminal,” Sulley Muntari won his fight with Italian soccer authorities on Friday to overturn a one-match ban for walking off the field in response to racist abuse.
“I feel that someone has finally listened and heard me,” the Ghanaian player said in comments published by FIFPro, the international players’ union. “The last few days have been very hard for me. I have felt angry and isolated. I was being treated like a criminal. How could I be punished when I was the victim of racism?”
The Sierra Leone defensive midfielder, Rodney Strasser was one of the first footballers to hail his former team-mate walk of action. Strasser told this medium “FIFA and the Italian Football Association need to pay more attention to the Persistent racial abuse of African players playing in Italy.
“I stand with Muntari for taking action because Racism has no place in football. It has to stop – We have to put an end to such inhuman behaviour in football.”
“In 2013, during a friendly match we played against Busto Arsizio there was racial abuse on another Ghanaian Kelvin Prince Boateng, as a team, we were forced to walk off the pitch in a protest to say no to racism and nothing was done,” Strasser explained.
The Pescara player received a yellow card during Sunday’s Serie A game at Cagliari for protesting to the referee about the monkey chants from the stands.
Muntari, 32, said he had complained against some section of the crowd, in the final minute of Pescara’s 1-0 loss including a group of children, chanting racist insults at him.
The red card led to Muntari receiving a one-match ban by the league’s disciplinary commission.
Cagliari escaped punishment because Serie A’s disciplinary body said only 10 fans bellowed abuse at Muntari, raising further doubts about Italy’s commitment to tackling racism in soccer.
“I hope my case can help so that other footballers do not suffer like me,” Muntari vehemently added. “I hope it can be a turning point in Italy and show the world what it means to stand up for your rights.”
The global anger reached the United Nations, with a top human rights official calling Muntari an “inspiration.”
FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio told national news agency ANSA that he was “satisfied” with the appeal ruling “because rules and procedures which are guaranteed by our system were respected.” Tavecchio was banned by UEFA for six months at the start of his Italian federation presidency in 2014 over a reference to bananas when discussing the presence of foreign players in Italy.
FIFPro said “common sense has prevailed” with the ban being rescinded.
“The right result has happened and justice has been served,” Bobby Barnes, FIFPro’s leader in Europe, told The Associated Press. “All of us felt the decision was wrong because there is a clear protocol in place and the player had followed that protocol.
“To be penalised for leaving the field because the protocol hadn’t been carried out was an insult to injury. When you’ve got the victim of a situation being the one that ends penalised, I think it is only right you look at that again. We’ve got to the right place, albeit belatedly.”
Daniella Matar in Milan contributed to this report – @football_sierra.