After a testy 2-1 win for Chelsea over Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, during which the visiting Spurs fans booed him, Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger refused to be silent.
In the first match between these two sides just before Christmas, a 2-0 win for the Blues, Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min was issued a VAR-assisted red card after an incident in which he appeared to kick out at Rudiger with his boot after a hard challenge. The fans turned on Rudiger instantly, and the Chelsea player was adamant that he heard “monkey noises” directed at him from Spurs fans. He alerted match officials during the match and was vocal about what he heard after the final whistle.
Tottenham and Chelsea immediately launched an investigation of the incident in cooperation with the Metropolitan Police, but in early January Spurs released a statement fully supporting Rudiger but ending the investigation after they could not find evidence to “corroborate or contradict the allegation.”
Unfortunately, it appears that too many visiting Spurs fans took the results of the investigation to be a full vindication of all Spurs fans at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium that day, and they booed Rudiger during Saturday’s match vociferously with every touch of the ball.
Rudiger spoke to Sky Sports Germany (via BBC) after the match, obviously unhappy at the result of the investigation and his treatment from the visiting fans, and declared that “racism has won.”
“I won’t give up. I’ll always raise my voice - but in relation to this, I’m alone. Racism has won. The offenders can always come back to the stadium, which shows these people have won. It’s a disaster.
”I became a father last Thursday and you start thinking society hasn’t come far enough in fighting racism, so my kids will probably suffer as well. If nothing changes, if kids don’t get good education and parenting, we’ll lose.”
Rudiger is, of course, absolutely correct and if we remove the tribalism of football fandom from the equation I think most people would agree. There is absolutely no doubt that Rudiger fully believes he was racially abused during the match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in December, regardless of the results of Spurs’ investigation (which I believe was conducted in good faith).
Spurs’ investigation could not come to a conclusion that racism had occurred based on the evidence that was available. That does NOT mean, however, that Rudiger wasn’t abused by Spurs fans. Too many Tottenham supporters at Stamford Bridge seemed to believe that because proof wasn’t conclusively found it means that Rudiger made it up. That kind of misguided belief system, grounded in tribalism, is what leads to Spurs fans booing a black footballer on his home ground for reporting that he was racially abused.
Lord knows I’m not a Chelsea fan but in this I support Rudiger. Tottenham fans don’t want to believe that they are one of THOSE fanbases that can hurl racist abuse at players, certainly within the context of the historic anti-Semitic abuse that has regularly been hurled at Spurs fans and players over the years — but the truth is that there is racism within the fanbases of all football clubs. You only have to look at the banana peel that was thrown at the feet of Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang earlier this season to see that.
I find it much easier to believe that there was someone or a group of someones in a crowd of 62,000 fans really did racially abuse Rudiger within the context of a highly contentious encounter that sent off a Spurs player than that he made the whole thing up. But we’ll probably never know for sure. That so many Spurs fans have viewed the inconclusive results from Tottenham’s and Chelsea’s investigations into the incident as either full vindication of all Tottenham fans’ actions that day, or evidence that Rudiger was lying is incredibly sad. Rudiger’s despair over the investigation and his subsequent treatment by Tottenham supporters comes through in his comments and is heartbreaking.
It would be nice if all football fans could rally to the cause of footballers of color who allege abuse no matter what shirt they wear and look inward to stamp it out as much as possible. Unfortunately, as Rudiger’s comments show, the sport of football still has a very long way to go.