Lilian Thuram: Racism only stopped if players from non-white backgrounds decide to ‘stand up’

Lilian Thuram wants white players to step up to protect and punish racist abuse and says players from non-white backgrounds have been on the receiving end of insults from racial vigilantes in France.

The former Barcelona and Juventus defender said he has been insulted with racial slurs in the past during friendlies and Under-20 European Championship qualifiers in France.

He said he has been shocked by the behaviour of small groups of people in Paris or Marseille who alert security forces if a black player scores or taunts a white one.

“We have to form ourselves around the striker and kick the racists out,” said Thuram, who won 115 caps for France and lifted the World Cup in 1998.

“When we’re on the pitch, we have to risk our safety. I can imagine the rage of a black player who has been racially abused. It is shameful to watch.

“At the Under-20s, one of the media team said: ‘I couldn’t say what I feel!’ There were a few moments when players, coaches and fans sat down and talked. Maybe, with some backbone, we can put an end to it.”

Thuram added that only players with a strong moral character could halt racism from spreading to the World Cup next summer in Russia.

“We have to draw a line,” he said. “We have to defend these young players.

“These are smart guys, they see the aim, they know what it’s about. Once that line is drawn, the abuses will stop.

“It’s a well-established pattern that even if there are no incidents in France, what happens is that it follows us all over the world. It is unfortunately inevitable.

“We are guilty of exposing these young players to racism wherever we go. We live in a cultural jungle. We forget it. I try to open the doors for them in my own way.”

The football authorities must step up, said Thuram, former assistant coach of the Cameroon national team, during a World Cup.

“We need to manage emotions and settle players down. If the pressure is too much, the fight is between the flag and the white guy. I know it’s deep down. I don’t like to talk about it, I can only tell you what I see.”

Thuram said it was “crazy” to think the incidents could be solved during the games.

“We need players who could draw a line, who would tell these small men to leave us alone, who could go out there and bring it to an end,” said Thuram.

“In the stands there are, between 20 and 30,000 people. I don’t think that’s a big thing to say. I’m in the streets and I don’t see racism there. In terms of demographics, we are just as diverse as any other country in the world.

“We must create a system where we can tell the aggressors to leave us alone. We have to show these guys that they have to stop. We can just throw them out.”

Thuram said he tried to “focus on football” when he was faced with abuse.

“I don’t want it to affect the game. I just want to play. What affects me is not that they are racists, it’s that we don’t confront this problem. We let it go.”

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