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World Cup History: Zidane Gives a Head Butt to Racism

16 mins read
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As we wait for the big game on Sunday I came across a piece I wrote on July 10, 2006 after me and my friends had watched the World Cup final in 2006 between France and Italy. It was a game full of controversies and great football.

Some of my friends said Zinedine Zidane made a mistake unleashing that head butt which eventually cost them the game. I disagreed so I wrote an article about it in our Jukwaa a Kenyan internet platform run by the late Onyango Oloo at the time.

Here it is:

The Legend of Zizou Grows

July 10, 2006.

Two astonishing headers came from Zinedine Zidane in the last twenty minutes of extra time in the Italy versus France World Cup Final at the Nazi-era Olympic stadium in Berlin on the last day of the tournament.

The first was a sure-fire header from Zidane on a magnificent cross from the right flank in the dying minutes of the first half of extra time. Zinedine rose above everybody and placed a powerful towering header curving away from Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Miraculously Buffon twisted himself in the air and got his right hand on the ball to lift it over the post. It was a breathtaking moment of extraordinary skills and sheer magic from two of the very best players and competitors the game of football has produced in our generation.

The next header from Zidane came ten minutes to the end of extra time courtesy of Italian defender Marco Materazzi. This time the header did not move in the direction of Buffon. This time Zidane’s header landed squarely in the heart of Materazzi sending him flying a few feet to the ground where he kept writhing in alleged pain.

We don’t know how much pain Materazzi was in after Zinedine’s header. My friend Mohamed Amin with whom we were watching the game suggested the fella might need an ex-ray to determine the damage. What we know for sure is that Matterazzi had been pestering Zidane following him and uttering words that everybody in the world wants to know. As of the time of writing this piece, Zinedine hasn’t spoken directly, but the world now knows what happened.

Word on the ground is that Materazzi uttered repeated racist slurs at Zidane.

In fact it has now been confirmed that Materazzi uttered a stream of vile racist remarks to Zidane. Reports indicate first Marco Materazzi called Zidane the Italian equivalent of “nigga”, and then insulted both his mother and his Muslim background by saying he is the “son of a terrorist w*h*o*r*e”.

What we saw live on TV in the replays was Zinedine walking away from this racist scum not once but twice as the guy continued to stalk him yammering on and on.

The third time Zidane turned around to face Materazzi and as calmly as he often takes penalty kicks, gave Materazzi a head butt right on the chest and then moved back and stood in dignified silence appearing completely oblivious to the unfolding drama around him as the referee and linesmen conferred to determine the crime and punishment. The result was a red card for Zizou and then the whole world went ballistics.

Critics including TV, electronic and print media analysts and even other players including heavyweights like Allan Shearer, former captain of England poured scorn and relentless condemnation on Zidane.

The general line is that Zidane left the world soccer stage he has dominated for close to two decades in shame and disgrace. I find this line of thinking seriously demented, to put it mildly.

There is no doubt by now that racism and bigotry were at the heart of the Zidane head-butt incident. To me, Zidane did not just deliver a punishing hit on Materazzi, but rather an anti-racism blow to bigotry in the soccer field in the biggest match of the tournament.

I applaud Zidane for his action and those in the world of soccer who abhor racism, bigotry, and the culture of hate should embrace the man, not condemn him. It is time to challenge the World Cup of racism on and off the field. Maybe head-butting people is not the best way to do it, but someone has to take real action against this menace.

As we all know, racism in soccer has become an even much bigger cancer than the revolting fake injuries that soccer players routinely engage in. The myth out there, particularly in Europe where racism has seriously infected the “beautiful game” has been that it is the fans that engage in racist activities.

In many stadia in Europe black players are often taunted by fans, they are papered with monkey noises, they have bananas thrown at them, and sometimes are tormented as AIDS carriers. In fact, the abuse is so intense that on occasions, some black players including the current African Footballer of the year Samuel Eto have threatened to walk out of the field instead of putting up with racist garbage.

The truth of the matter is that racism in soccer is not confined to the fans on the stands but is also very much alive among the players and the couches. A recent and very troubling example is the Spanish coach Luis Aragones who just before the World Cup began was caught live on a Spanish Antenna 3 TV making horrifying racist remarks about Thierry Henry the celebrated Arsenal and French Player to one of his players Antonio Reyes.

“Tell the black: I am better than you. Don’t hold back. Tell him from me. I shit on your b*i*t*c*h(w*h*0*r*e)) of a mother, black piece of shit! I am better than you” Those are the vile words of Luis Aragones.

The coach was fined 3,000 Euros for the remark by the Spanish Football Federation, which defended him and refused to fire him. Thierry Henry one of the FIFA ambassadors against racism referred to the fine as “ridiculous” and the rest of the soccer world including FIFA and all the self-righteous media types and even players now yapping about Zidane never said a word.

On his part, Mr. Luis Aragones dismissed the whole thing and refused to apologize for his despicable remarks. Mr. Aragones said he is not a racist.

“I have Black, Gipsy, and Japanese friends including one whose job is to determine the sex of poultry” Aragones declared. Good Lord, what does the sex of poultry have to do with racism?

The coach said he was just trying to motivate his players. Wow, if they need this kind of rubbish to get motivated is it any wonder they carry the same attitude to the football field?

To their credit, France answered Luis Aragones in the field in the match to get to the quarter-finals where France dismantled the much heralded Spanish team beating them 3-1 with Zidane sealing the victory with a goal in the dying minutes of the match as Spain was desperately trying to equalize. Finally, the “black shit” hit the roof right in Luis Aragone’s face. Good for him.

I think Zidane did the world a great favour because now everybody is talking about what was said to him to make him blow his top. And as the tidbits come in, it is getting obvious Zidane chose to protect his dignity as a human being and refused to put up with ignorant bigoted taunts just to win a cup.

Zidane has delivered many gifts to the world and to the people of France, but the greatest gift of all may be the one he delivered on the chest of one Marco Materazzi with 3 billion people watching including presidents, prime ministers as well as humble folk all across the world.

Some people are asking what do we tell our children who love and adore Zidane and who watched him floor Materazzi. Well, tell them racism and bigotry is not acceptable and should not be tolerated just to win a cup. Human dignity is more important than any cup in the world. Tell the kids the Materazzi’s of this world who mouth bigoted words to insult and hurt others are the lowest of the human species and should have no place on the football field. My sense is that the kids will be fine. It is the grown-ups, particularly the bigoted ones we should worry about.

Ironically this was the tournament in which FIFA finally tried to do something about the plague of racism in soccer by getting players to read statements condemning racism before some games. Well Zidane just delivered the most eloquent statement heard all across the world. Nobody could have done it better. We should all thank Zizou for his bravery in the face of a cowardly bully.

Zinedine Zidane was born in the housing projects of La Castallane in the suburbs of Marseille, one of the poorest cities in France, on the 23rd of June 1972 to Algerian immigrant parents.

Starting his professional career at the tender age of seventeen, Zinedine has risen to the pinnacle of world soccer with brilliant technical skills and the iron will to succeed in his game, which has helped him achieve stunning results at every level in the sport of soccer. He leaves the stage with few if any rival in his sport. His genius will live with us forever. My generation is honoured to have seen the magic of this man in his theatre of operation, the soccer field.

No, Zidane is not leaving the game in disgrace as some have suggested. Zidane has pointed a firm and courageous finger to the disgrace of racism that plagues one of the world’s greatest sports. He may not get endorsement money in retirement from the cowardly corporate firms, but he will forever have the warm embrace and endorsement from millions of soccer lovers across the globe that abhor racism and bigotry.

The Italian soccer authorities should be honest about what happened and address it. They have enough scandals as it is with Juventus one of the premier clubs in the country, which contributed nine players to their world cup team facing the possibility of relegation to Serie “C” which could lead to their complete demise. Italy does not need a cup in bigotry and to their credit in 1982 the Italian team dedicated their World Cup trophy to the Palestinian people in recognition of their struggle for a homeland. Don’t soil that tradition by protecting bigoted players like Marco Materazzi.

There are even romours that the whole thing was a plan set up with the help of the Italian coach himself to rattle Zidane. If this is true and I believe it is, then we are dealing with grand cheating.

Lippi and co couldn’t buy the referees and players to do a Juventus in the final game so they decided to provoke Zidane with racist filth knowing he is not the kind of person to take that nonsense lying down. The idea it seems was to get Zidane to react and get tossed to give the Italians an advantage. That is the worst form of cheating and it has disgraced the whole tournament. This is way bigger than Zidane and the little idiot called Materazzi.

FIFA must get its act together and take action against Mr. Materazzi and others like him including coaches like that despicable Luis Aragones of Spain instead of hiding under the cover that the national federations in their countries should deal with them. As they prepare for South Africa 2010 we need to see concrete action being taken to end the scourge of racism in soccer. Zidane has set the pace as we take this great sport to the African continent for the first time.

Adongo Ogony is a Kenyan Human Rights Activist and a Writer who lives in Toronto, Canada

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