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Kalidou Koulibaly: “When we won matches: ‘Ah, but they have a lot of strong blacks!'”

Speaking in an interview with L’Équipe Magazine, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly compared treatment of him on the matter of racism in France and Belgian compared to in Italy.

“At FC Metz, my first club, there was a big Senegalese community and more generally of black players. When we won matches, our opponents would sometimes say: “Ah, but they have a lot of strong blacks!” It was frustration from them after losing a match. With hindsight, there was perhaps a racist tinge to that but it was a long way from monkey chanting. In France, we are more advanced than that. In Belgium too: at Genk (he was there from 2012 to 2014), I did not have a single problem. I spent two wonderful years there.”

Before moving to Napoli in 2014, were you warned about the bad behaviours of certain fan groups?

I had heard a lot about stereotypes: Italy is racist, people don’t like Serie A because of xenophobic incidents, blacks don’t succeed because caucasian people are given an advantage… I wanted to prove the opposite, I like this type of challenge. And then Napoli, it was all the opposite, this is where the paradox lies: I was very well settled, my family felt good, just like my friends when they come and visit. Here, all of the Senegalese street sellers get called Koulibaly, and they are very happy about it. They are really accepted, there is no problem.

When did you experience the first incident of racism against you there?

Against Lazio, during my second season (2015-16). There were maybe some others before but I didn’t pay attention. During this match (3rd February 2016, the referee Irrati stopped the game momentarily), I really lost it. The monkey chanting was so strong, I lost focus. I was no longer thinking about playing football when normally I give 100%. It really hurt me. The staff was concerned, the coach (Maurizio Sarri) offered to stop the match if it continued.

Actually, I was embarrassed, I felt like I did not deserve to be there all of a sudden, like I did not have place in this world. With hindsight, I told myself the opposite: they should be ashamed and it is up to us to show and affirm that we have a place on the pitch. These thugs would never make those noises when they were face to face with me. They are in the middle of a crowd, anonymous, and it is difficult to identify them. There is a real fight to have against this. Other countries are further ahead with it: in England, where the most watched league in the world is, those responsible are banned for life. It is there drastic measures that we must take inspiration from.

 

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