Arsenal vs Slavia Prague: It’s About More Than Just Football
By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)
Most of you will know, simply based on the title, what I’m planning on writing about in this article. For those who don’t, here’s a quick summary of the events that have happened surrounding next week’s Europa League opponents, Slavia Prague.
During the Europa League Round of 16, Slavia Prague played Rangers, of Scotland. During the match, Slavia centre-back Ondřej Kúdela was seen speaking into the ear of Rangers midfielder and former Arsenal player Glen Kamara. From Kamara’s immediate reaction, and the reactions of his teammates, it’s clear the words were offensive in the extreme.
Kamara came out after the match, claiming Kúdela called him a “f*****g monkey,” in a despicable act of racism that is unjustifiable, immoral, and inhumane. This account is supported by Kamara’s teammates, Bongani Zungu and Connor Goldson. In conversations with UEFA lawyers, Kamara gave the following statement:
“I want UEFA to know that I am still left shaken and deeply upset at the racial abuse I suffered at the match with Slavia Prague on the 18th March.”
“What I experienced did not stop on the pitch, but has continued with racist abuse and threats via social media from Slavia Prague fans."
His lawyer followed up.
“Glen said he heard the words loud and clear: ‘You’re a f****** monkey you know you are.’ Kudela did not whisper those words and they were loud enough for those next to him to hear.”
“Glen felt upset, angry, embarrassed and confused; he said he felt like a little boy again facing racial abuse. It was humiliating and he knew his family and friends would be watching the game.”
“Glen welcomed the summit, and expressed his gratitude to the many clubs, players and fans that have provided him with unconditional solidarity.”
“Like many black players, Glen said he now wants to see real action not just words or box ticking exercises.”
“For Glen a player’s racist conduct has consequences, it doesn’t simply end on the football field for the victim, as others are incited to continue with the racial hatred and bigotry on social media, 24 hours, seven days a week.”
“Glen said he can walk off the football field, but racism has gone on to invade his personal space on social media, that hate is easily viewed by his family, friends, colleagues and community.”
“Glen hopes that UEFA would take strong action against Kúdela and Slavia Prague, but also that the Scottish Football Action along with all the clubs take responsibility for the conduct of players as well as fans, otherwise this will keep happening to other black players like Glen and what message would that send to the next generation who dream that one day that they too, no matter their race or creed can succeed at football if they work hard.”
Slavia Prague and Kúdela have also released a statement, claiming the 34-year-old defender was already being treated as if he was guilty. The Czech international claims to have been physically assaulted in the tunnel by Rangers players, specifically Kamara, after the match, and has received abuse and threats over social media since the incident.
Wales star Gareth Bale took action in their friendly against the Czech Republic, wearing a shirt that read “Show Racism the Red Card,” before delivering a forceful elbow to Kúdela’s head during the match, as the pair competed for a header. . The Real Madrid loanee was widely praised on social media for his actions, which some see as deliberate.
It’s also important to note that the Czech players refused to take the knee, against Wales, a symbol that has become symbolic of and synonymous with world football’s fight alongside the Black Lives Matter campaign against racism and discrimination in all forms. The Czech FA released the following statement:
“Following the events of the last days, weeks, and months, the management of the Czech national football team together with the Football Association of the Czech Republic want to jointly announce that the national team will take a neutral apolitical stance to certain topics that have been resonating in the sports environment. This namely concerns the Black Lives Matter (BLM) initiative, in which some players kneel before football matches. To express their support for the fight against racism and other displays of discrimination, xenophobia and antisemitism, the Czech national team will point to the UEFA Respect inscription on the left sleeve of their jerseys, referring to the UEFA campaign of the same name, before the match in Wales,”
Arsenal play against Czech side Slavia Prague a week from today. We are a team that proudly supports the Black Lives Matter movement, and stands against all forms of racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, homophobia, and discrimination. We are also a team with a proud tradition of elevating black players, including players currently rostered and former.
There have been suggestions that Slavia Prague should be banned from the competition, which would give us a bye round, but I don’t agree with that assertion. Racism in all forms is awful, and should not be tolerated, but until Kúdela is found officially guilty, no legal action should be taken. I believe in due process.
However, it's important to recognize that this match is about more than just football. I, for one, can’t wait for the opportunity to put the Czech side to the sword this upcoming week, but this match is about taking a stand against discrimination in all forms, and about fostering a better world for current and future generations.
It’s a burden and a responsibility Arsenal, as a club and individuals, have expressed the motivation and the want to bear. And it’s something we must carry forward into this match, and into the future of a club. There is no other choice.