Chinese football authorities are investigating claims of racial abuse directed at former Newcastle and Chelsea star Demba Ba in a recent Chinese Super League game.
The incident happened on Saturday in a clash between Changchun Yatai FC and Shanghai Shenhua, which ended in a 1-1 draw. In the 77th minute, Shanghai’s Demba Ba was whistled for a foul on Changchun’s Tan Tiancheng 谭天澄, who appeared to land hard. Tan’s teammate, Zhang Li 张力, immediately confronted the Senegalese striker.
Play continued, but the conflict between Ba and Zhang only escalated. Less than a minute later, they had to be physically separated by other players.
In the video up top, an enraged Ba can be seen explaining himself to Changchun’s Odion Ighalo, a Nigerian national footballer, gesturing that he was perhaps targeted for his skin color. Meanwhile, Chinese announcers speculated that something unseemly might have been said during Ba and Zhang’s exchange, “otherwise Demba Ba wouldn’t be this animated.”
Ighalo, for his part, remained cool-headed and diplomatic throughout the ordeal.
After the game, Chinese media reported that Ba told a team staffer that Changchun’s Zhang Li had shouted “You black” at him.
“In Demba Ba’s two years with Shenhua, he’s always been conscientious, from tactics and style to character, he has been outstanding and a model player,” Shanghai manager Wu Jingui 吴金贵 told reporters after the game. “Today, we comforted him on the field, and off the field we understood: An opposing player used insulting language against him. FIFA has stressed that black players should not be targeted with insulting language. He was furious.
“There are players from multiple ethnicities playing in the Chinese Super League, we have to respect our opponents, there’s no place for discrimination.”
Zhang denied using any racist language, and said it was Ba who actually insulted him first.
“I didn’t use any form of racist language,” Zhang said. “Demba Ba cursed me in Chinese, so I replied in English — just one word, a most simple one, perhaps one that exists in every soccer circle around the world.”
(Zhang didn’t specify what that word was, but my off-the-cuff guess is he’s referring to that word which begins with an f and ends in a k.)
Zhang said that his English isn’t very good, and that if asked, he couldn’t name any racist words. “Later, Demba Ba attacked and choked me, I really don’t get why.”
Changchun Yatai FC said it would not punish Zhang, and a team official urged media to not trust any one-sided accounts from Shanghai Shenhua.
The Chinese Football Association confirmed on its Sina Weibo account on Monday that it “will conduct an investigation and hearing to scrutinize any in-game misconduct. If the allegations are confirmed, there will be stern punishments.” The association emphasized that it will not tolerate any form of racism, and has been consistently promoting fair games and good sportsmanship.
Ba and Zhang are both expected to attend the scheduled hearing on Tuesday.
Ba played for English Premier League teams Newcastle United and Chelsea FC prior to joining Shanghai Shenhua in 2015. He briefly left for the Turkish league in 2017 before rejoining Shenhua in June of this year. He tweeted on Sunday:
— Demba Ba (@dembabafoot) August 5, 2018
Despite the Chinese FA’s statement, the association doesn’t have a great track record of punishing racism. In 2017, Brazilian football player Júnior Urso complained to officials that Chinese player Yu Hanchao called him a “monkey.” That same year, Argentine player Ezequiel Lavezzi was embroiled in controversy after posting racist photos. Neither player was disciplined by the Chinese Football Association.