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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Zinedine Zidane: du méchant à la victime

by Lionel Venturini

Zinedine Zidane: From Devil to Victim ...

Translated Friday 21 July 2006, by Patrick Bolland

Football : The Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) has set up a disciplinary enquiry into the footballer’s behaviour, after his head-butting of his Italian opponent.

Was there a racist dimension in what Materazzi said in his encounter with Zidane in the last minutes of the World Cup Final between Italy and France? If so, how should this be sanctioned? ... Let us examine the scene itself, and that famous “header”. ...

The British press - The Times, The Sun, and the Daily Mail - who hired professional lip-readers, all reached the same conclusion. As Zidane was moving back from Materazzi, the Italian said: “Everyone knows you’re the son of a terrorist whore”. In Brazil, TV-Globo provided another version of what Materazzi said: for them the racist elements of the incident occurred at the time of the altercation between the two players.

In any case, whatever the precise details, there was unacceptable behaviour by two players – the one making the insults and the other targeted by them - on a football field. This whole scenario raises a number of questions about the attitudes which are tolerated in football stadiums. It is here that we are getting close to the soft underbelly of top-level sport, and the methods of some managers and trainers who inculcate the idea of “declaring war against the other” to increase their players’ aggresivity - in sport, such a warlike attitude is transformed into a positive trait.

One example: the Spanish trainer Aragones when he increased the rivality of the Reyes (Spain’s national team) against Thierry Henry by turning the game into a fight to prove the racial superiority of the (white) Spaniards. If this is what actually occurred, then this certainly has be sanctioned. (see footnote).

The paradox is that this was the first time in the history of World Cup that the organisers made an official commitment to fighting racism. Banners opposing racism were displayed before all games, and messages read out by team captains.

For the French team – the Bleus – this issue was even more sensitive, with Lilian Thuram’s widely-published statements on the problem. And it was Zidane himself who, before the France-Brazil game, had issued a statement about this, accompanied by Cafu. “Racism has no place in our society – and even less in football”, Zidane had also written, before the Italy-France final. In a declaration to the group FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe), Fabio Cannavaro, captain of the Azzurri – the Italian national team – had said: “We must not just think about name-calling and what people say in the stands, we also have to be exemplary in our own behaviour. This is especially true of footballers.”

He was right: Soccer has long tried to protect its own interests by turning a blind eye to racism – from the imitation of monkeys howling when Samuel Eto’o was about to kick the ball, to direct physical intimidation of Franck Makitingou and Pascal Chimbonda when playing in Bastia (Corsica).

Materazzi, the Italian player, himself adopted the role of the naive simpleton: “I’m not very well educated, I don’t even know what an Islamist terrorist is ... and I certainly didn’t refer to anything about Zidane’s mother. For me, motherhood is sacred.” – the Inter-Milan player said. He is making no big deal of the head-but he received.

Translator’s notes
In an accompanying article, Mouloud Aounit, president of the French Movement Against Racism and for the Friendship between Peoples (MRAP), said: “While Zidane’s behaviour was inexcusable, FIFA also has to punish the racist language used by the Italian player, Marco Materazzi. We are calling for an in-depth investigation of this episode by FIFA ... After all the anti-racist statements made before each match, this has to be punished severely, not just with a 3000 euro fine as in the case of Thierry Henry who received racist slurs from the Spanish team. For the MRAP, anyone making racist statements (in a football game) must be given a red card immediately ... and the footbal clubs must eliminate racism in the stands, by banning any supporters using racist slogans from attending future games. Football is the most popular game in the world, we have to do everything possible to make sure it is not poisoned by racism.” (excerpts from an interview by Samuel Creutz)

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