Football star Samuel Eto’o’s inspiring stand against racism won him an award Monday, as the European Council warned that prejudice still stalked the game in Europe.
The former Cameroon and Barcelona striker was to receive the Medal of Tolerance from the European Council at a Tolerance and Reconciliation gala dinner in London’s Kensington Palace, the home of Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate.
Eto’o, 33, who now plays with Sampdoria in Italy, famously tried to walk off the pitch during a Spanish match due to the racist abuse he was suffering.
“The last year has been a particularly challenging one for football in terms of hate and racism,” the four-time African Player of the Year said in a statement.
“As players, we need to take a moral stand because we are the people the spectators watch and we have to be a strong example of tolerance in a multi-racial society which I believe football can represent best.
The ECTR is a non-governmental organisation founded in 2008 which promotes understanding between communities and monitors xenophobia in Europe and counts former presidents and prime ministers among its council members.
Eto’o started out with Real Madrid but made his name with Barcelona, before moving on to Inter Milan, Chelsea and Everton.
In 2005 while playing for Barcelona, Eto’o was heavily racially abused by Real Zaragoza fans, who made monkey chants whenever he touched the ball.
The following year, when again being abused by Zaragoza supporters, Eto’o tried to walk off the pitch, telling the referee he could not continue, before his team-mates persuaded him to complete the match.
“It is important at this worrying time to send a clear message that racism has no home in football,” said ECTR head Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress.
“As we have witnessed recently with the actions of Chelsea and West Ham fans… racism and anti-semitism are still very much alive and well in football.
Eto’o has won the Champions League three times, four domestic championships and the Club World Cup.
Now retired from international football, he is Cameroon’s top goalscorer with 56 from 118 caps, and has won the Africa Cup of Nations twice as well as an Olympic gold medal.
The ECTR’s first Medal of Tolerance was conferred in 2010 on king Juan Carlos I of Spain, with the second given jointly to Croatian president Ivo Josipovic and former Serbian president Boris Tadic.