In recent weeks, Milan’s Mike Maignan and Coventry’s Kasey Palmer have both been subject to racist abuse during football matches. The cost can be high, but wherever it occurs, fighting racism is kingdom work, says Sam Brown


Source: Reuters

L-R: Milan’s Mike Maignan and Coventry’s Kasey Palmer have both been subject to racist abuse at football matches in recent weeks

In many ways, the weekend of 20–21 January 2024 was like any other: filled with football. But sadly, two headline-hitting instances of racism make it stick in the mind. In Italy, Udinese supporters subjected Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan to a series of racist chants. Closer to home, a Sheffield Wednesday fan was captured on camera performing monkey gestures at Coventry’s Kasey Palmer. The following weekend, as Coventry and Sheffield Wednesday met again in the FA Cup, some of the Wednesday faithful were heard booing Palmer.

Kick It Out, an anti-discrimination charity dedicated to exterminating racism from the beautiful game, praised both Palmer and Maignan for their courage in immediately challenging the abuse they received. The sight of Palmer and Maignan’s visible distress makes for highly uncomfortable viewing – and so it should. You don’t have to be a Christian to condemn such vile actions.

Being people of truth and justice is likely to come at a cost

For the footy fanatics among you, I know you’re with me. You want to know how you can help quash racist remarks and restore the beautiful game to all its glory.

Deep roots

But for those who typically scroll right past the sports headlines, bear with me. There’s so much to learn from football. It’s a lens through which we’re able to see the deep-rooted issues of our society. Racist remarks aren’t confined to the stadiums, and our response shouldn’t be either. These incidents present an opportunity for a wider conversation for followers of Jesus. Whether we’re on the terraces, in the office or the bus, how do we respond to racist comments and actions?

First, we might consider the individual being singled out. In the beginning, God created everything and he “created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The story of creation is unequivocal. Humankind is created in God’s own image. And that is all of us –the imago dei is not reserved for any particular race, tribe or tongue.

What, then, should our response be when we see and hear image-bearers being maligned?

Living like Jesus

Our journey through life, as a follower of Jesus, is best lived when we travel toward becoming more like him. So, the question becomes: How would Jesus act when faced with this issue? If Jesus observed racist chanting, gestures or derisory comments behind an individual’s back, what would he do?

You don’t have to be a Christian to condemn these vile actions

Well, Jesus commanded us to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). It’s a love that’s sacrificial, costly and radical. We should stand up for anyone who’s being mistreated or oppressed. Being people of truth and justice is likely to come at a cost. For most of us, that’ll be a biting reply here, a cold shoulder there. In more extreme cases, it could even exact a physical response.

But as you stand up for truth and justice, you’ll be joining God in creating a more accepting society where all belong and are valued as individuals crafted in the image of God. You might not see the impact of your courage in challenging racist comments and actions straight away, but as you champion justice and peace in train carriages, pubs and football stadiums you’re doing kingdom work, right where you are.