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Top soccer players could form union to tackle racist abuse, Romelu Lukaku says

Inter Milan and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku says the world’s top soccer stars could form a union to tackle racist abuse in the sport. (Photo: sportinfoto/DeFodi Images/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Inter Milan and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku says the world’s top soccer stars could form a union to tackle racist abuse in the sport.

Speaking exclusively to CNN, Lukaku says authorities are currently not doing enough to protect players in the wake of yet more racist abuse aimed at Vinícius Jr. during Real Madrid’s match against Valencia last month.

Lukaku, who was racially abused when Inter Milan played against Juventus in April, said he watched the situation at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium unfold from his home and was left incredulous that these incidents continue to occur so frequently.

“I think it will start,” Lukaku told CNN’s Senior Sports Analyst Darren Lewis when asked whether players could form a union.

Lukaku says the idea would be for many of the world’s most prominent players “to come together and speak with UEFA and FIFA” directly, as well as the governing bodies for domestic leagues, about how best to tackle the ongoing “problem” of racism in the game.

“It’s really disappointing that it happens because we’re in 2023, the world is different cultures, different religions, different people of color and still we make the same mistakes all the time,” Lukaku added.

“That’s the thing that rubs me the wrong way because I always say, if we want the brand of football to be representative in this way, it also starts with the people above [authorities] that have to fight against this type of thing.

“For me, it really doesn’t happen enough, really in a strict manner that fans come to the stands and really respect people of different colors, people of different religions, sexuality, also online hate.

“I think you have to also attack that because a lot of players online get a lot of stuff said to them which is not nice. So then I say governments also have to start getting involved in that stuff, which doesn’t happen enough for me.”

Lukaku also called for “more diversity in positions of power” at the top of soccer.

In a statement sent to CNN, FIFA said it has “made important steps towards greater diversity” since reforms began in 2016 and said it currently had staff from 100 different countries, 40% of which were female.

FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, also supported Lukaku’s call for governments to get involved, saying education in schools was the first measure in its five-step plan to tackle racism in soccer.

FIFA pointed to the appointments of Senegal’s Fatma Samoura as Secretary General, Rwanda’s Martin Ngoga as chairman of the Ethics Committee, Ghana’s Anin Yeboah as deputy chairman of FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee and India’s Mukul Mugdal as chairman of the Governance Committee as “very diverse people” in “key positions” within the organization.

“That’s where you need to start, that’s where we need to have diversity,” Lukaku said of the upper echelons of the sport. “People of color, put them in the top of every boardroom and that’s when the change will start.

“That’s why, for example, in our Belgian federation, that’s where they started, they’re trying to put in people of color, different sexuality and stuff like that. So every situation that can happen, if it’s racial or every form or type of discrimination, can be attacked straight away.”

In 2021, the Belgian football federation (RBFA) launched the ‘Come Together’ action plan that focused partly on tackling discrimination and improving representation within the federation, including the addition of a Diversity Board.

“I think that’s how it should happen,” Lukaku added. “If you put people of different color in positions of power, I think things would get taken care of much faster than now.”

In a statement sent to CNN, Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said: “No one should have to experience racist abuse, and we don’t want it on our apps. We take action whenever we find it and we’ve launched several ways to help protect people from having to see it in the first place.

“These include Hidden Words, which filters offensive comments and DMs and is on by default for creator accounts, and Limits, which hides comments and DMs from people who don’t follow you or only followed you recently.

“We know no one thing will fix abusive behaviour, but we’re committed to continuing working closely with the football industry to help keep our apps a safe place for footballers and fans.”

CNN has also reached out to Twitter and UEFA, European soccer’s governing body.

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