A long-ignored problem in Saudi society is now being tackled inside its soccer arenas
Saudi Arabia has a racism problem. It’s generally ignored—even accepted—and in no place is it more prevalent than within the country’s soccer stadiums. Until now.
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced that it condemns racism and will punish (usually with fines) any incidents of insults that pertain to identity, religion, origin or color. The kicker: Officials will even install four secret cameras to investigate racist chants at an upcoming match. If an incident occurs, the SAFF said they could ban fans from entering the stadium.
According to the SAFF, there have been no recorded incidents of racism from players, coaches or administrators, but taunts from the Saudi teams’ fans are common.
“Cheating, lies, disgusting words, racism, soccer in Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with sport.”
“Salamu Alikum brother Khaled. If the people new that the game of soccer was created to bring people together and not pull them apart, there would be no more racism in the Gulf.”
One ugly example appears in the video below, posted to YouTube in September. Thousands of Saudi fans filled the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd stadium in Riyadh to watch the Al Hilal FC team play. But as one of the opposing side’s star players took the field, the Al Hilal fans made the battle about race and not soccer skills. Fans screamed “Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria,” in an attempt to mock an Arab player of African descent. Racist incidents like this have already cost the club 60,000 Saudi Rial and a long overdue smack on the wrist, shocking both players and fans alike.
This terrible tradition carries on even when Saudis are taken out of Saudi. There have been too many cases of Saudi princesses keeping "slaves" in the U.S. In one example, Saudi princess Meshael Alayban was accused of human trafficking after she kept a Kenyan women in her home in Irvine, Californa. The princess confiscated the woman's passport and travel documents so she couldn't flee.
There have been multiple instances of racism when it comes to Al Hilal. Yasser al-Qahtani, a striker for Al Hilal, who left to play for Al Ain FC, an Emirati team, for the 2011 to 2012 season over racist comments hurled at him. In October, al-Qahtani was subjected to yet another racial epithet, this time from a sports commentator at a game between Al Hilal and Al-Raed (both are Saudi teams).
This isn’t the only, or even the worst, racial slur Saudis have been using at games. African players on Saudi teams often have to deal with getting called “Takrooni” which translates to “n*****.” Expatriate Arabs—usually from Egypt, Sudan and Palestinian territories—living in Jeddah can expect to be serenaded with the tamer “Garbage of the sea” insult.
At least soccer games eventually end. Racism against Saudi migrant workers aren’t so lucky as harsh words usually lead to violence. According to the 2012 US State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report,” migrant workers come from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, to name a few. They are drawn to Saudi Arabia with the promise of high pay, a visa and a better life, but often their passports are confiscated upon arrival and are made to work long hours in terrible conditions for little-to-no pay.
But change, however small it may be, is starting at the soccer stadiums.
“There are different types of players, some feel hurt, some don’t,” al-Qahtani said in an interview with Saudi TV station MBC Action in May. “Some players hear [the racial taunts], some players don’t hear them. Some demand a response and some demand a response from God. But I’m surprised they’re tackling this issue now.”