This article also featured on Guardian Sport.
After the abhorrent racial abuse suffered by England players during their Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro in March and by Juventus players Moise Kean and Blaise Matuidi at the hands of Cagliari ultras earlier this month, European football was against tarnished by racism this weekend as Amiens travelled to Dijon in Ligue 1 on Friday evening. The game goalless with twelve minutes to play, Amiens centre back and captain Prince Gouano blocked a Oussama Haddadi cross to concede a corner. “I turned to encourage my teammates” said Gouano, “then, I heard monkey screams. I said ‘surely it’s not possible to hear that in the twentieth century.’ So I went to the person responsible and asked if he wanted to do it again. And he did!”
Although his anger and disgust were obvious, Gouamo calmly alerted the referee before walking to towards the technical areas to inform Amiens coach Christophe Pelissier. “I said that I did not want to play anymore” continued Gouano in the mixed zone post match, “I had to do something to stop it.” The Amiens defender visibly received support from both sets of players and staff during a six minute halt to proceedings. An obvious solidarity between players was underlined by Dijon winger Frederic Sammaritano afterwards. “Unwavering support for Prince Gouano and all those discriminated against,” the Frenchman tweeted, “I’m disgusted that it happened at our home, I’m hoping that these ignoble and abject gestures are an isolated act.” Before play was restarted Gouano was seen walking towards the stand behind the goal, pointing to his abuser amongst the Dijon fan, flanked by players from both teams.
For a player of just 25, Gouano is remarkably well travelled. Born in Paris before graduating from the famed Le Havre academy, Gouano counts an eclectic mix of clubs from Juventus to Bolton to Vitoria Guimaraes to Gaziantepspor as former employers. However, as the Frenchman explained afterwards, he had never suffered racist abuse previously. “Strangely, this is the first time,” said a shocked Gouano, “I’ve had to come back to France, my country, to experience it.”
Gouano has rightly been roundly praised for the integrity and dignity with which he handled the incident, ‘A Prince again racism’ read L’equipe’s front page the following morning, his attitude ‘exemplary’ said the paper. Meanwhile FFF president Noel Le Graet, who spoke to Gouano afterwards, told L’equipe “his post-match reaction blew me away.”
Similar sentiments could be expressed of both club presidents who together addressed the assembled press in the aftermath in a show of unity to condemn the actions of the Dijon ‘fan’. “No club is immune, it could have have happened to us,” explained Amiens president Bernard Joannin. “Our role as leaders is to ensure this never happens again.” Joannin’s Dijon counterpart Olivier Delacourt branded the incident “shameful,” saying “it has no place in a football stadium or anywhere.” Amiens’ manager Christophe Pelissier meanwhile echoed Gouano stating “these things are acceptable in 2019… if it had been [against] a player from Dijon, it would have been the same” situation. His club meanwhile pledged to “firmly fight racism in all its forms so that every family and every child present in our stadiums will find values that unite us all."
Le Graet highlighted, much as incidents involving England and Juventus players in recent weeks have, that despite “determined education” the “path” to ridding football of racism and discrimination “remains long.” Roxana Maracineanu, Minister for Sport who Le Graet will meet with on Wednesday, also highlighted her concerns over homophobic songs at football grounds, saying on Saturday that she also would like to meet with Gouano to discuss such abuse. "You have to listen to the players, understand their point of view. That seems important to me." she explained.
Despite that ‘long path’, the handling of the incident - which seems to have been confined to a sole moronic member of the crowd - was appropriately firm and decisive from all concerned. Mirroring both club presidents, all twenty two players quickly and unquestioningly came to Gouano’s support and agreed with coaches and officials that the game would be immediately called off should such abuse be heard again. Meanwhile a steward was on hand to witness the second instance of monkey chanting and warn authorities while Dijon, using video footage, were able to identify the perpetrator and have him arrested before full time with the club already planning to sue the individual, having already filed a complaint against the ‘supporter’. A lifetime ban from the club is the very least they can now expect.
A Dijon club statement read: ‘This behavior is simply unacceptable. These intolerable acts have no place neither in the stadium or outside. The entire club gives its fullest support to Amiens captain Prince Gouano.’ Unfortunately a statement from Lingon’s Boys, a Dijon ultras group, wasn’t as praiseworthy. Despite condemning racism they insisted “no one heard any insults.” The LFP meanwhile will make their assessments on Wednesday, with FIFA calling for ‘severe sanctions’ and ‘all federations, leagues, clubs and disciplinary bodies to adopt a zero tolerance appraoch to racist indicents,’ reported L’equipe.
Gouano meanwhile, a devoted christian, remained resolute and dignified afterwards, speaking of “love and forgiveness”. The Amiens defender explained that “I wanted to make a point when I asked to stop play. We are all equal. OK, there are colours, but we’re all human beings. The watchword for me is love... I just want to send a message of love." Despite such detestable scenes, Gouano’s dignified response to such idiotic abuse will hopefully only strengthen the resolve of all to rid our game and our society of racism and discrimination of all kinds.
by Adam White