TikTok incident spotlights racism in Belgian youth football: 'The situation is dire'
A slew of racist comments on a TikTok video has highlighted how Belgian football's racism problem seems not only to be persisting but escalating. "There is an acute problem. The situation is dire," the president of the Belgian Football Federation's 'racism court' told Belgian media. Halfway through this season, they have already received 98 cases. No less than 40 per cent of all cases in football involve young players.
A TikTok video by Belgian football club KAA Gent triggered a flood of racist comments in recent days. The hateful backlash to the video, which shows players between the ages of 7 and 9 singing and dancing, has rekindled the debate about Belgian football's wider racism problem. The problem seems especially rampant among youth teams.
"Everyone at the club is stunned," Sven Vannerom of KAA Gent told Het Nieuwsblad. "Of the 500 comments on the video, at least 200 were racist or hateful in nature." The club removed the racist comments but did not take down the video itself. "That would just be pandering to those racist comments," says Vannerom. "We are indeed a multicultural youth academy where everyone is welcome. The video will simply stay up."
The hateful backlash on the video is by no means an isolated incident. "There is an acute problem. The situation is dire," says Dirk Thijs, president of the Belgian Football Federation's National Chamber in the Fight against Discrimination and Racism, which operates as a kind of court. He has already received 98 cases halfway through the football season. Last season, the court handed down 153 rulings in total, Het Nieuwsblad and Gazet van Antwerpen report on Friday.
The National Chamber in the Fight against Discrimination and Racism has been dealing with incidents on and around football pitches since the spring of 2021. "The influx of cases is growing," says Thijs. "We have to pull out all the stops: the number of judges has increased, and more people are working at the Federation's Prosecution to investigate all cases. The problem is acute, we are experiencing dire situations."
The court acts only within the strict framework of football matches. "We have no jurisdiction for cases like that of AA Gent's youth players who faced racism on Tiktok," Thijs says. "That is a matter for the regular public prosecutors and the regular anti-racism law. They could possibly prosecute those offenders, with the help of equal opportunities centre Unia if necessary."
The court usually holds sessions on Wednesday afternoons, when Belgian children are not in school. "Because it often involves underage players, both perpetrators and victims," explains Thijs. No less than 40 per cent of all racism cases in football involve youth players.
A training session of the U21 youth team of Belgium's national soccer team in 2021 © BELGA PHOTO BRUNO FAHY