A black eye for the sport

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: June 2, 2009

Oguchi Onyewu

Oguchi Onyewu

BRUSSELS — U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu is suing an Anderlecht player over an alleged racial insult, hoping the case will help eradicate on-field racist abuse in European soccer.

Onyewu, who plays for Standard Liege, says Anderlecht’s Jelle Van Damme called him a “dirty monkey” during the Belgian league playoffs. Van Damme has denied the allegations and said he is not a racist.

Onyewu’s lawyer, Jean-Louis Dupont, lodged a complaint with a Brussels court Tuesday.

“He was convinced it was his duty to lodge the complaint,” Dupont said. “It is not a question whether Van Damme is racist. The issue is that these slurs are still used on the pitch, and are being used because they know it hurts.”

Onyewu completed five days of training in Miami on Sunday with the U.S. soccer team. He is preparing for the June 14-28 Confederations Cup in South Africa and two World Cup qualifiers.

Onyewu is one of the top defenders in the Belgian league and has made 40 international appearances for the U.S., starting in all three games of the 2006 World Cup.

The incidents occurred during the opener of a two-game playoff series between Standard Liege and Anderlecht to decide the Belgian league on May 21.

In three separate incidents during the tense 1-1 draw, Onyewu claims Van Damme called him a “monkey.” Onyewu alerted the referee but the match was not interrupted. At one point, Onyewu threatened to leave the field but “the teammates convinced him to stay,” his court complaint said.

Standard Liege beat Anderlecht 1-0 in the return leg, giving the 27-year-old Onyewu his second league title in as many years.

Beyond seeking personal reparation, Onyewu “wants to contribute to eradicate such behavior in football,” his court papers said.

“A great many lesser-known African players don’t have the stature to publicly denounce the insult they suffer on the pitch,” Dupont said. “With Oguchi, it is different.”

Anderlecht said it had yet to be informed of the court case. The team said Van Damme had told the referee at the playoff game he made no such comments.

Unlike the racist chants that cascade from the stands in some European nations, the racist taunts on the field are often whispered in a player’s ear when referees are out of earshot.

Racism from the stands has been going for years, with fans making money chants and throwing bananas at black players. Soccer officials have long condemned it and fined clubs.

Although not racist, the most famous case of onfield taunting came at the 2006 World Cup final. Italian defender Marco Materazzi got under Zinedine Zidane’s skin and the Frenchman headbutted him. Zidane was sent off and Italy went on to win the cup.