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Kevin-Prince Boateng: The unlikely saviour of a game in need of repair

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Following his decision to walk off the pitch after racist abuse, Kevin-Prince Boateng has found himself in a position where he can actually make a difference to the game.

When AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng led his teammates off the pitch back in January, it was hailed as a potential turning point in football’s fight against racism.

That his teammates supported his decision – made after 25 minutes of a friendly match against Italian fourth division side Pro Pataria after continual racist chants from the terraces – spoke of a sport that had finally had enough, of a team doing what their authorities had failed to do.

Whether it was easier to do so in an otherwise meaningless match than it would have been in a competitive arena is not the point. It was done. And people the world over hailed it as a turning point in a country that for too long had been blighted by racism, and in a sport in which it seemed as prominent as ever.

In the aftermath of Boateng’s actions, Fifa President Sepp Blatter said the player’s decision to leave the pitch was “not the solution” and that clubs whose players forced the abandonment of a match for any reason should forfeit the game. He also said there should be zero tolerance against racism. No surprise for guessing which comment made the headlines.

But while Blatter maintains his stance that player’s should not leave the pitch in the face of racial abuse, he has hailed Boateng’s actions as “an earthquake”, which seems most apt in a sport in desperate need of a shake-up.

A shake-up that has begun with the announcement of the Ghana international’s appointment as the first member of Fifa’s anti-discrimination task force.

That the former Portsmouth and Tottenham player has been given such a role is a shock. During his time in England he gave no indication of being the man who would one day become the spokesman for his generation, on a matter that we have so far failed to eradicate.

And yet speaking after his appointment, he echoed the feelings of many when he said that racist players should be punished in the same way as racist fans, that if found guilty they should lose their privilege to play for that club or that country; just as fans are banned from matches, so should the men they support.

Speaking on Friday, Boateng said he would walk off the pitch again, in the biggest match of all if necessary. Speaking of the money involved, and the prestige, he couldn’t be certain his team-mates would follow as they did back in January. But his stance is clear. “For my part,” he said, “I would do exactly the same.”

There is a strange juxtaposition between Blatter and Boateng – the man who has so far done little to combat racism over many years and the man who has done much in no time at all.

When he walked off that pitch back in January, he surely had no idea what power it would grant him. Not the power to make decisions – not yet at least – but the power to influence them, to not only raise awareness but to be the spokesperson for common sense.

If Fifa are serious in their renewed fight against racism, they would do well to listen.

What do you think of Boateng's appointment?  And what else can Fifa do to combat racism in the game?

images: © goatling, © goatling

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