Demba Ba on racism: 'UEFA must educate referees earlier'

Demba Ba tells Sky Sports News' Inside Football show: "Sometimes it feels like the world is upside down because football is just a reflection of the society at the end of the day. For me, the best tool that we can have is to educate people"

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Former Newcastle and Chelsea striker Demba Ba tells Sky Sports News about how he reacted to suffering racist abuse by an Atletico Madrid fan while playing for Chelsea in the Champions League in 2014.

Former Chelsea and Newcastle striker Demba Ba has urged UEFA to educate referees about racism before allowing them to officiate in European competitions.

Ba was involved in protests to officials during Istanbul Basaksehir's suspended Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain in December.

It followed claims by Basaksehir assistant coach Pierre Webo that racist language was used towards him when he was sent off by Romanian fourth official Sebastian Coltescu.

Webo, a former Cameroon international, said Coltescu had disrespected him by referring to him as "the black one".

In March, UEFA suspended Coltescu for "inappropriate behaviour" until the end of the season and ordered him to attend an educational programme before June 30, 2021.

But Ba believes UEFA must take action to prevent future incidents, saying "education should start before, it should not start after somebody makes a mistake". Sky Sports News has contacted UEFA for a response.

Here, speaking to Sky Sports News' Inside Football show, Ba explains why he feels a more proactive approach is necessary.

Pierre Achille Webo of Istanbul exchanges words with referee Ovidiu Alin Hategan
Image: Pierre Webo of Istanbul exchanges words with referee Ovidiu Alin Hategan

How do you reflect on what happened on that night in Paris when you look back now?

For me it is only positive for the world of football, because something happened that night that never happened and we are moving a step closer to equality. Even though we are very far away.

Did you feel it was a groundbreaking moment?

We can see on the video when the craziness started going on and we see our assistant coach starts screaming at the fourth official, you can see me sitting back in the stands and I was kind of thinking, 'what is happening?', you know. As I said many times, we should avoid judging people because we are not in people's hearts, we don't know what their intentions are. The only thing we can question is the action and on the moment I just questioned his action. Why would he refer to our assistant coach by his skin colour when he wouldn't do it with others? This is the aim, this is the intention with which I go to speak to him.

Romanian fourth official Sebastian Coltescu (2nd-L) looks on next to Istanbul Basaksehir's French forward Demba Ba (2nd-R) and Paris Saint-Germain Brazilian forward Neymar (1st-R) during the UEFA Champions League group H football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Istanbul Basaksehir FK at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, on December 8, 2020. - Paris Saint-Germain's decisive Champions League game with Istanbul Basaksehir was suspended on December 9 in the first half as the players
Image: Romanian fourth official Sebastian Coltescu (2nd-L) was suspended for the rest of the season following the incident

If you had that night again would you have handled it differently?

Absolutely not, because once again I just wanted to know his thoughts on it. So I questioned him. At no point did I say this guy was a racist. At no point did I judge the person but I questioned his action and you know in some countries they think it was a great move, some other countries - like the one I grew up in - they are just bashing me. I don't know how from this action they went on saying Demba is an Islamist. It is craziness, we are not talking about religion, we are talking about equality and on that moment I just questioned if he would have done the same with somebody with the skin colour that is different. If he would have told me yes, I would have sat back on the seat and said, 'let's go guys', because he acts the same with you as he does with me. But this didn't happen.

The official was suspended until the end of the season - appropriate punishment?

We haven't heard about him, ever. He never talked I believe. The only thing I heard from him was when we spoke directly after that incident. A few days after I spoke to the guy, and he was telling me he is not a racist, that he has black friends, blah, blah, blah and all of this which I can understand. I'm not saying he is a racist, but he recognised that he made a big mistake because on the football field you don't do this - you don't do this anywhere. Maybe in a closed house with your friends where you talk a certain way with your friends, but you know them and you know how they are going to act and react. And what is accepted in your inner circle is not accepted in the world. But he recognised that he made a big mistake. Is the punishment fair? I don't know. I would have judged differently if it was me.

UEFA did not find him guilty of racism but told him he must attend an educational programme… was that the right course of action?

The crazy thing is that UEFA, an entity that works across Europe, with countries of all different types of languages, with different nationalities of referees, it means that they haven't given their referee the education before they start. The education should be done before they start working on the field all across Europe with different countries, different languages, different cultures and different people. The education should start before. It should not start after somebody makes a mistake.

Do you want to see him again and speak to him?

No, not at all. A friend of mine that knows him from Senegal put me through to him on the phone and he just explained himself. At the end of the day, whatever he says, I'm not judging the person and you can hear any interview that I've done, I have never judged a person. I have just questioned him.

PSG forward Neymar wears a 'No to Racism' t-shirt in the warm-up
Image: PSG and Basaksehir players wore 'No to Racism' T-shirts in the warm-up to their rearranged match

Were you satisfied with what he said on the phone call?

It is not a question of satisfaction. At the end of the day, he just recognised that he made a big mistake and that's it. He should also go public and apologise. When [Edinson] Cavani made a mistake - which I don't know if we can call it a mistake because culturally [in Uruguay] the word he used, negrito, a white man can use it for another white man - he comes out and apologises. This is the first step, because trust me you can do the worst thing to anybody but if you come and apologise with great intention of apologising and saying, 'Sorry, I hurt you', it's alright because everybody makes mistakes. We can hold people accountable for their mistakes, and when they come and apologise sincerely you have to accept you know, but somehow we never saw this happen. And not even to me because he was not even talking to me, he was talking to somebody else.

PSG's manager that night was Thomas Tuchel. What did he do that night that angered you so much?

I would have loved him to be on the same page as us. It's not like I hate the guy. He's a coach, he looks for his interests, in his life and career. The same way I said to my team-mates in the dressing room 'if you guys want to play just go out and play'. I have boundaries, and your boundaries are different. I'm not saying they're not higher or lower, just different. If you guys want to go out and fight for the club, fight for the club.

The same way for Mr Tuchel it's different in terms of what triggers him. For him, if it's fine to continue to play in this kind of situation, it's alright. I mean it's alright for him, not for me, but for him.

Patrick Bamford questioned why UEFA responded so quickly to the Super League, but do not act so vigorously to other issues, such as racism. What do you say to that?

Patrick Bamford was a doubt for Friday's clash due to a dead leg 0:45
Leeds striker Patrick Bamford said it's 'a shame' the outrage over the European Super League is not mirrored in football's fight against racism

He didn't judge, he questioned and that's the best. If you want people to answer and tell you their mind. I'm not talking only on UEFA because they have been unbelievable in the way they reacted to the Super League, but the fans also. Let's talk about the fans - they have reacted very strongly to what they call 'save the game' and we don't see this when it comes to racism in this world. Once again I stand behind him and I am asking why it takes a couple of days to stop a movement that can affect their incomes but when it affects equality it takes decades.

Ondrej Kudela was found guilty of 'racist behaviour' towards Rangers' Glen Kamara and given a 10-game ban (which he has since appealed against) - a fitting punishment or a missed opportunity?

If this happened on the street, the justice takes over. In that case when it happens on the field, it's fine, we give him a 10-game ban. But he doesn't have any cases at the justice and doesn't have anything. Did they miss the opportunity? If he was guilty, yes they completely missed the opportunity and I believe if they give him 10 games it is because he was guilty otherwise why would you punish him 10 games? You ban someone for 10 games because he has been guilty of racism, he is probably a role model in his country and in football but yet we want to ban fans for life when they racially abuse football players on the field. It doesn't make sense. If we ban the fans from the stadiums for life for racist comments, the player who should be the role model is banned for 10 games, which is probably two seasons of Champions League or Europa League. I don't know what the ban should be, once again it all depends on the mistake that you make. Sometimes you make mistakes and it's just unfortunate, you say something and in the moment you realise, 'what did I just do?', sometimes it can happen. But they missed an opportunity. To do what I don't know exactly what they could have done to do better. But once again, when we want to ban fans for life because of racial abuse and players who should be role models, we just give them a few games ban, it makes no sense.

It doesn't seem that you have that much confidence in UEFA to solve these issues properly?

It's not just UEFA, it is the way the world is turning. Sometimes it feels like the world is upside down because football is just a reflection of the society at the end of the day. For me, the best tool that we can have is to educate people, once again this is the best tool. For those that cannot be educated no more then you punish them. It should start from school and from the young age and the parents.

Have you ever been racially abused?

It happened to me maybe twice on a football field. One time in China - he was banned for six games, the player, but he was found not guilty of racism. Try to find some sense in that. The second time was the semi-final that I played with Chelsea in Atletico Madrid by one of the fans. At the end of the match what happened is that I just went and gave my shirt to this guy. I ran all the way across the field and gave him my shirt. The way he was happy and smiling, I thought maybe it will change him. If it does, then I will be happy that I have contributed to at least change one person's mind.

I just went and gave him the shirt and I said, 'this is for you my friend', that's it.

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