Rhian Brewster emulates Ali to fight racism


There are striking similarities between Rhian Brewster and Muhammad Ali. They both won gold medals as teenagers in their chosen professions- football and boxing. The media headlines for both young men have waxed lyrical about a long and successful future ahead of them. But the biggest similarity is that Brewster as emulated from perhaps the most iconic sportsman of all time- Ali- is his bravery to confront the scourge of racism.

In an exclusive with the Guardian newspaper Liverpool’s protégé striker Rhian Brewster has denounced the international sporting bodies EUFA and FIFA for not effectively tackling racism in football. Brewster hit the headlines by winning the under 17’s world cup, and along with the way winning the golden boot with a hat full of goals including two hat tricks.

But instead of basking in his glory and perhaps getting an over inflated ego, the young striker used his elevated position to speak out about the 21st racism particularly in international football that he and other Black players have to face.

“I had to do it”, he said. “My mum and dad approved of me speaking out because this is not the first time. They’re angry and they don’t want it to keep happening. And they’re angry because nothing has been done about it.”

He asked his club to submit an official complaint after playing Spartak Moscow in a Uefa Youth League tie at Prenton Park, home of Tranmere Rovers, three weeks ago.

“I got fouled,” Brewster says. “I was on the floor and I had the ball in my hands. One of their players started saying stuff in Russian to the ref. I said: ‘It’s a foul, man, what you playing at?’ I was still sitting down at this stage. Then their player leaned over me, right down to my face and said: ‘Suck my dick, you nigger, you negro.’ "

"I didn’t even want to put in a complaint [after the Spartak game]. I was walking down the tunnel swearing: ‘Fuck the system, it’s not going to do anything.' Obviously you have to [make a complaint]. But if something is ever done about it, that’s another story"

“I jumped to my feet and the ref came running over because obviously he realised something had been said. He [the referee] said to me he couldn’t do anything because he hadn’t heard it and ‘the only thing I can do is report it’. I said: ‘Come on, then – let’s go and report it.’ He started doing something else and I said: ‘No, now.’ We went over to the fourth official and told him. I told Steven Gerrard what had happened and we made a complaint there.”

The next incident happened in September when Liverpool’s Under-19s, managed by Gerrard, had a Uefa Youth League tie at home against Sevilla. “We were on a break,” Brewster says. “A ball came down the left. I was trying to get up with play when one of their players started running across me, trying to block my line and stop me running. I grabbed him and he fell over, theatrically. He’s come back and said something to me in Spanish. We were arguing and then he said it.”

The N-word again? “Yeah, and I’ve reacted. I was going to walk off the pitch and go straight down the tunnel, I was that angry. Steven grabbed me and said: ‘What’s happened?’ Obviously he realised something was wrong and he put his arm round me. I told Liverpool’s coaching staff, and they told the fourth official.

Brewster makes clear he’s not the only one subject to abuse. During the World Cup final against Spain he explains how a Spanish player was calling his team mate- Morgan Gibbs White, ‘a monkey,’ I said, ‘did you hear that?’ He said: ‘Yeah, yeah, I thought I was the only one.”

Kick out racism chief Lord Herman Ousley has praised the young man and his club Liverpool for supporting him too.

Brewster himself explains how he tries to deal it: “On the day it happens, -racist taunts- that night my head won’t be there. I just want to be left alone. I want to be by myself and left to think. The next day I’ll still be thinking about it.”

We can only applaud Rhian Brewster for his bravery in calling out the racist players, racist fans and the institutions who continue to do little to sanction the players or the fans for their unacceptable behaviour. Rhian’s cause would be helped if others were brave enough to stand up and be counted when they are racially abused.

For the young man himself, he should be proud the fact that he is in the greatest company of Black sporting heroes including ‘the greatest’ who had stood up and demanded an end to racism.

Simon Woolley