Speaking about his experience in Italy he says: “It’s never been easy and until the end of my career it won’t be easy. It’s always been a very tough journey for African footballers – and it’s still tough today. I suffered a lot. I had to deal with it so often I found ways of making a point against racism. When I played against Real Zaragoza they chanted like monkeys and threw peanuts on the pitch. So when I scored I danced in front of them like a monkey. When the same thing happened against Real Madrid I scored and held my fist in a Black Power salute.”
The reality is of course too few UK sports stars are willing to speak out so publicly about the racism they face. With some notable exceptions such as former Olympic gold medalist Daley Thompson and the Manchester United and crocked England captain Rio Ferdinand. The reality is that few in the UK are prepared to challenge the racism they face from the stands.
Samuel believes that this World Cup being held on African soil can make a real difference. He stated: “Maybe this World Cup, being the first in Africa, can change attitudes. I hope so, but I suffered a lot in Italy this year. So it’s not just one country where there is racism. But to obtain these rewards you have to go through that. And that’s why it’s incredible we’re playing in the country where my idol, Madiba (Mandela), lives.I’ve been lucky enough to meet him twice. It was one of the most amazing things that ever happened to me.
And speaking about his return to Africa to captain the Cameroon national squad Eto’o spoke of his pride in being an African footballer: “That’s why I’m so proud to be African in this World Cup. Like most Africans I had to work much harder and show much deeper belief than others. I started with nothing and reached the level I’m at today. All I had was football and God’s help. But I made it and now I’m going home, to Africa, where we can show a different face to the world.”
He hopes that the tournament will change people’s perceptions of the continent he loves so much. “Most people only see Africa in terms of poverty and war, famine and disease. But this World Cup gives us the chance to show something different. I think the whole world is going to be really surprised by Africa. This could be the best World Cup in history.”
Eto’o stands out because of his determination to confront racism and his pride in being an African. Here in the UK as we prepare for the Olympic Games in 2012 it will be important that UK sport stars begin to challenge the racism they face not just on the track and field but when they try and break into sport administration and management. In short they need the courage so demonstrably articulated by the likes of Eto’o.