Two black footballers at the south-western town club Ekenäs Idrottsförening say that racism on the field is a common occurrence. Etchu Tabe, an American of Cameroonian descent, and Victor Solomon, who hails from Nigeria, were racially abused during a recent derby against Karis club BK-46.
The abusers were seated close to Amnesty International’s Managing Director in Finland, Frank Johansson, who is also a football enthusiast. Johansson said he heard shouts of ‘neger’, an offensive term derived from ‘negro’. A short time after that Johansson reports hearing a woman shout ‘go back to Africa’ in the direction of Tabe and Solomon.
The two players say that shouts like these are commonplace.
"I’m used to it now, it’s almost like normal life for me. And it’s not just me, it happens to a lot of African and black players. It happens," said Tabe, who moved to EIF last year after a spell with KuPS in Kuopio.
"They just want to distract, you know," said Victor Solomon. "I don’t listen to them. I just try and shut the crowd out, whatever they are shouting."
The home team BK-46 say that although racism is completely unacceptable at their games, there’s little they can do about racial abuse after the fact.
"Of course we deplore this, but what can we do?" said the club’s chairman Tom Pihlström. "I don’t have any formula for eliminating this kind of thing."
The BK-46 supporters club also distanced themselves from the incident.
"It’s not part of our culture," said Patte Lindholm of the ‘Pålkka Sviinen’ group. "From the beginning we’ve renounced racism and violence."
The players concerned say that they are used to racist abuse, but urged the clubs to act against the problem.
"They have to do something. This is just football, there shouldn’t be any form of racism," said Solomon.
Maurizio Pratesi, an expert on multicultural issues at the Finnish Football Association, says spectators can help by ensuring they report any racist incidents to the home team. He says the problem isn’t widespread in Finland, but that vigilance is still necessary.
"In Finland we don’t have that strong a supporter culture, so you can’t really talk about a widespread problem," said Pratesi. "On the other hand this happens too often in the stands, given how few people attend games in Finland."