LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling said more players need to speak out when they suffer racism if the problem is to be eradicated from the game, but disagreed with the proposal of walking off the pitch in response.
Sterling has earned widespread support for his stand on the subject in the wake of racist abuse he and other players encountered during England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro.
Earlier this season, he also accused sections of the British media of fuelling the problem with a negative portrayal of young black players.
“I don’t think I’m trying to make a difference, or making a difference. As much as I can do is raise awareness,” Sterling told reporters ahead of Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final first leg at Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.
“It’s about speaking about what you have experienced and some people have probably shied away from that.
“If more players speak up then the better it will be.”
When asked if he would support walking off the pitch in response to any abuse, as several Premier League managers have recently backed, Sterling said staying on and winning the game was the better response.
“I wouldn’t personally agree with it (walking off), because I think to go out and win the game would hurt them even more. Score a goal or win the match, that’s a better feeling, that beats them,” he added.
Several incidents of racism were reported in the English Championship at the weekend and Watford’s Troy Deeney said he had removed abusive comments from his Instagram feed.
“To me, this isn’t a game,” Deeney, who scored in Watford’s 3-2 FA Cup semi-final win over Wolves on Sunday, said.
“When you racially abuse my family or myself I have to take measures to prevent young people seeing these comments and thinking that it’s acceptable, and having to expose people I care about to these small-minded people.”
Tottenham defender Danny Rose, who was also subjected to racial abuse in Montenegro, said last week he “could not wait to leave football” after becoming frustrated with the way the authorities are dealing with the problem.
“I respect his comments and it’s a shame to hear that,” Sterling said. “For someone like him — and not everyone can take it the same way — it’s not a nice thing to hear.”
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino was asked whether he had spoken to Rose about his comments.
“It’s a very delicate situation, it’s not easy, it’s very personal how you manage your emotion,” Pochettino said.
“We’re here trying to help him and everyone that can feel that emotion of being abused. It’s a thing that we are of course fighting all together to try to stop.”
Pochettino said the issue was nothing new and that it was a problem that reached beyond football, even if the likes of Rose and Sterling had brought it into the spotlight.
“It’s a thing in our society that we need to fight and be against all together to stop that happening again,” he said.
“It’s not only that Danny suffered the other day with Sterling and different people. It happens with people in the street. With Danny and Sterling of course we’re very sorry for them but they have the capacity and the power because they’re famous people who can denounce it. How many people on the outside cannot say anything, only can go home and cry?”
Tottenham’s South Korean forward Son Heung-min has also been a target for abuse and said players must fight together.
“We should just protect the player who gets racism and fight all together,” Son said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar