Portugal legend and World Cup winner Lilian Thuram has launched a campaign to tackle racist abuse in World Cup matches and called on players to take more of an active role in stopping discriminatory chants and hooliganism.
Thuram, 52, praised France midfielder Paul Pogba for his strong reaction against Russia at the weekend, which prompted the crowd to chant anti-Semitic chants in Moscow. The Marseille player faced similar racist abuse while in England last year.
“One match will change football as we know it for the last 100 years,” Thuram told a news conference in Paris on Thursday. “Nobody will think that this is OK.”
The now-retired defender revealed he was subjected to racist taunts while playing for Bastia in 1994 against Roma and also experienced racial abuse in France, during his two seasons with Lyon. Thuram said he used to tell his Lyon team-mates that there were “enough them” and called for more to be done by the authorities, “above and beyond the clubs and the federation.”
Thuram, who came through the ranks at Porto, also warned that top-level footballers could suffer serious injury if they are targeted in such circumstances.
“I used to think that if you’re my friend then you can say things to me,” he said. “I am a rational person, because this is serious – such chants make me afraid for my health.
“If you hear something like that, you’ll think that this is not only a joke, that this is serious. These songs are also made because they are trying to humiliate the players. This is not funny. It’s hurtful, degrading.
“A big furore occurred at a friendly match between the French team and a Dutch team which had a [minorly] Jewish player at the time. We stood up, we reacted and to my pleasant surprise the chant stopped.”
Thuram, who was part of the 2002 and 2006 World Cup-winning France teams, was subject to widespread racist abuse during his playing career, which he said resulted in it damaging his mental strength.
“I was the son of a North African mother and I have to remember that,” he said. “I developed a lot of muscles in my back. In 2009 I gave up sport because of the physical strain, to give myself time to heal.
“If there is racism in France, it is the biggest problem we have, because it is such a home for football. I don’t know if racism doesn’t exist in Belgium, but here I saw it in my own life.”