A Ghanaian soccer star was punished for walking off the field in response to racial abuse in Italy

Sulley Muntari at the 2014 World Cup.
Sulley Muntari at the 2014 World Cup.
Image: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay
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Sulley Muntari, one of Ghana’s biggest soccer stars who plays in one of Europe’s top soccer leagues, is the latest victim of racist abuse from fans, a problem that continues to stalk the sport.

During a league game between Muntari’s Pescara and Cagliari on Sunday (Apr. 30), the 32-year-old Ghanaian claimed he was subject to racist taunts by fans during the game. Muntari asked the referee to stop the match in the late stages of the contest, but was instead given a yellow card for dissent. In response, he walked off the pitch, leaving his team to play the last few minutes a man down.

The incident has once again sparked debate about how racial abuse should be dealt with by referees and league authorities. Despite Italy being home to one of the most popular leagues in Europe, with players from diverse backgrounds playing for all of its top teams, several black players in the league’s top division have been racially abused during games. Mario Balotelli, an Italian with Ghanaian roots, has been a regular target. Balotelli has appeared 33 times for the Italian national team in international competitions.

Muntari has played in Italy for over a decade, and it’s not the first time he’s been the target of racism, either. In 2013, while playing for AC Milan, Muntari and his other black teammates, including fellow Ghanaian Kevin Prince-Boateng, were the targets of racist chants during an exhibition match against a lower-league team in Lombardy. The match was abandoned after the players walked off the pitch in protest. At the time, Italy’s soccer federation described the incident as “unspeakable and intolerable.” Despite promising to “react with force,” racism remains an issue in the Italian leagues.

Muntari says he expected more of the referee. “The referee should not just stay on the field and blow the whistle, he must do everything,” he said after the game, according to the BBC. ”He should be aware of these things and set an example.”

Muntari’s chosen response, walking off the pitch, is frowned upon by the sport’s authorities. At Euro 2012, Europe’s biggest regional competition, players were told they’d be booked for walking off the pitch in response to racial abuse. But others, like Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN’s high commissioner for human rights, have hailed Muntari’s as an “inspiration,” saying that such drastic actions are necessary in the face of injustices that should have long ago been eradicated from the game.