By Robson Sharuko
It was the ultimate exhibition of football’s beauty but the global celebrations, triggered by its spectacular execution, have also revealed the game’s disgusting beast.
And, of course, its stinking racist undertones.
When Riyad Mahrez flicked the ball with his heel, at the National Sports Stadium on Monday, and embarked on a mazy run ending with him scoring a golden goal, it provided football, and the world, with something to cheer its spirits.
It was a special goal, underpinned by the Algerian’s deceptive flicks, which left a Zimbabwean defender, and his goalkeeper, on their backside, as the Desert Foxes doubled their lead in that 2021 AFCON qualifier.
However, the gritty Warriors fought back, with goals from inspirational skipper, Knowledge Musona, and substitute Prince Dube, to force a share of the spoils in a 2-2 draw.
In a world deflated by many challenges, including another wave of the Covid-19 outbreak, the exploits of such sporting magicians like Mahrez, are expected to cheer the globe.
But, when Mahrez posted the video of his special goal on his Twitter platform, it attracted as many people, celebrating that moment of athletic brilliance, as those who specialise in the dark arts, of using every opportunity, to spread their gospel of hate.
The Algerian superstar even joked that the “pitch side camera guy fell into it (his skills which deceived the opposition)’’ and his English Premiership side, Manchester City, also joined in the conversation.
“Can’t stop watching,’’ the six-time English league champions, who have 8.6 million followers on Twitter, replied to Mahrez’s post.
With Mahrez having 2.3 million followers on Twitter, it has also helped to spread, the conversation, to a huge audience across the world.
However, some responses, to the online conversation, have gone beyond the borders of banter with Sports and Recreation Commission chairman, Harare lawyer Gerald Mlotshwa, flagging them as racist.
“The arrogance, ignorance and contempt for our footballers is astonishing,’’ Mlotshwa said yesterday.
Mlotshwa could have been annoyed, in particular, by the contributions from someone who goes by the Twitter identity, @brucekwakuwayne, with a Donald Trump profile picture, who calls himself Lilian Marcus.
“Zim are just ranked 111 in the world,’’ tweeted @brucekwakuwayne, in response to the online debate. “One hundred and f*****g eleven.
“A top player, like Mahrez, shouldn’t be applauded for doing this against these factory and farm workers paraded to play football.
“Against farmers from Zim?
“Come on, anyone can do that against ZIMBABWE!’’ Marcus was not the only one whose sickening views might have riled Mlotshwa, and some Zimbabweans, who ended up joining the debate.
Another individual, who calls himself Man like-Gary, and goes with the Twitter identity @garethGus_, also described the Warriors as parttime farmers.
“Against Zimbabweans, part-time farmers? You can clearly see the pitch (at the National Sports Stadium) is turned into a potato-field during the off-season.’’
But, do these people know that the Warriors, who took on the Desert Foxes that day, had a player from English Premiership side, Aston Villa (Marvelous Nakamba)?
And, a player from English Championship side Nottingham Forest (Tendayi Darikwa)?
What about David Moyo, who plays for Scottish Premiership side Hamilton Academical?
Do they know that, in the same Warriors side, was a player from French Ligue 1 side, Olympique Lyon (Tino Kadewere)?
And, a player from Turkish Super Lig side Yeni Malatyaspor (Teenage Hadebe)?
If those who play in the Turkish Super Lig are “factory and farm workers paraded to play football’’ are they saying Manchester United, whose first defeat in this season’s UEFA Champions League came at Istanbul Basaksehir, also lost to a bunch of amateurs?
However, others have started to fight back and when it was suggested, by one contributor, that Mahrez only scores against “mediocre African teams,’’ the response was swift and brutal.
“Bro, I would love to see Sterling, Griezmann, Son, Coutinho and other great players playing in these conditions in Africa at 2pm below 35ºC and on such a pitch,’’ said Twitter user, @ilyesta31.
Another Twitter user, @houssame_dz, also responded that Mahrez “also scored against Colombia and Mexico, beautiful goals,’’ and is “effective in Africa, not because the teams he plays against are easy but because his teammates pass him the ball unlike the City players.’’
Here are some of the Twitter responses:
“For the haters in England, who hate Mahrez, can you tell me something what’s happening with England against Belgium? (England lost 0-2).’’
“The most important thing is the final result 2-2, Algeria was saved by the final whistle.’’
“Zimbabwe has a great team, too!’’
The controversy comes at a time when football has been battling to deal with racism, with the English Premiership players, coaches and officials taking a knee, before each match, in their united stance against racial prejudice.
A storm has also been brewing in England after English forward, Marcus Rashford, was targeted by the Mail On Sunday newspaper, in an article which others have been describing as a racist attack on the player.
“Perhaps, Marcus Rashford knew all along that this was how it might all play out,’’ wrote Jonathan Liew, The Guardian’s award winning columnist, in the player’s defence.
“Or perhaps, he will have realised it at some point on the journey, that there would ultimately be a price to pay for putting this many important noses out of joint, for doing so fearlessly and unapologetically, for making too much of a difference.
“After all, you don’t get to embarrass a Conservative government for free. And, on Sunday, Rashford would discover the real consequences of speaking truth to power.’’
Rashford has been campaigning for free school meals, especially to the poorest of the British families, but the Mail on Sunday ran with an article which appeared to attack him for investing in more than £2.5 million in properties.
Last year, the Professional Footballers’ Association said the British media’s negative coverage of Manchester City forward, Raheem Sterling, “emboldens racist rhetoric.”
“It is evident that he is often singled out and treated more harshly than his colleagues,” said a union statement.
“As such, these stories are fueling racism within the game, as reports of racist abuse continue to rise.
“We have been aware for a few months of the targeting Raheem faces in the press.”
Sterling cited two newspaper headlines, about Manchester City teammates Tosin Adarabioyo, a black player, and Phil Foden, a white player, buying houses.
The headline referring to defender Adarabioyo focused on how he spent £2.25m on a property “despite having never started a Premier League match,” while that for Foden talked about the player buying “a £2m home for his mum” and having “set up a future”. The Herald.