17-Year-Old Soccer Star Says He ‘Just Wants to Be Left Alone’ After Repeatedly Suffering Racial Abuse on the Field

Rhian Brewster
Rhian Brewster, 17, said the racism he encounters on the field affects him for days. (Photo by Getty Images)

An up-and-coming English soccer star is speaking out after what he calls several incidents of “racial abuse” from fellow players both on and off the pitch.

In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster opened up about his less-than-pleasant experiences over the past year as he worked to cement himself as one of the rising talents in the majority-white sport. The 17–year–old footballer and World Cup champ has yet to make his professional debut but says he can recall seven instances where either he or another nonwhite teammate faced racial harassment.

Five of the alleged incidents have happened within the past seven months, while the other two occurred when he played for England. Then there was that time during the World Cup final when a player from the opposing team called one of his teammates a “monkey” to his face.

“On the day it happens — that night my head won’t be there,” Brewster said of the racially charged encounters. “I just wanna be left alone … I want to be by myself and left to think. The next day I’ll still be thinking about it.”

It was an incident at an Uefa Youth League game, just weeks ago that ultimately prompted Liverpool to file a complaint about the incidents. Brewster said he was fouled by a player on the Spartak Moscow team and alerted the referee. Sitting on the ground with the ball in his hands, Brewster reiterated that he had been fouled. Thats when the opposing player leaned over him, got in his face and said, “suck my d-ck, you n—-r, you negro.”

“I jumped to my feet and the referee came running over because, obviously he’d realized something had been said,” Brewster recalled. “He [the referee] said to me he could not 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.”

That’s only the latest in a laundry list of the soccer star’s harrowing encounters, however.

  • He was called a “n—-r” after a dustup with an opposing player from Ukraine during the European Under-17 Championship in Croatia in May.
  • At a Uefa Youth League tie at home against Sevilla, he was called a racial slur yet again.
  • Brewster was being substituted in a game against Russia. His replacement, 18-year-old Bobby Adekanye, was greeted with monkey chants as he ran out onto the field.

The world of soccer has struggled with instances of blatant racism against nonwhite players for years, prompting professional league FIFA to launch its Anti-Racism Task Force in 2013. The federation disbanded the task force just three years later, however, claiming the group had essentially served its purpose, and was “hereby dissolved and no longer in operation.” The move sparked outrage among players and fans who felt racism was definitely still an issue permeating the sport, blatant or not.

“It’s hard to talk about because it’s something that hurts everyone, regardless of color, race or country,” Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho said during a news conference in 2014 after a Mexican politician posted a racial slur directed at  him on social media. ” … We hope that it doesn’t continue like this and that soon it stops.”

For Brewster, it was Uefa’s lack of action and investigation into his complaints that angered him. After reporting several of the instances, the footballer said the club either concluded there was no wrongdoing (due to lack of sufficient evidence), or failed to follow up on the claims altogether.

Despite the racist incidents, Brewster said he still enjoys the game and is working to effect change in hopes that things will get better.

“I love the game. I am never going to stop loving it,” he said. “It’s just disappointing to know it’s still in the game. If it wasn’t in the game, it’d be so much better. You wouldn’t have to worry about playing abroad, worrying about what the fans are going to say, or what another player is going to say. I wouldn’t have to worry that if I score they are going to call me all types of names.”

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