Football star Samuel Eto’o was honoured Monday for his “inspiring” stand against racism, as the organisers behind the award warned that prejudice still stalked the game in Europe.
The former Cameroon and Barcelona striker received the Medal of Tolerance from the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) at a gala dinner at London’s Kensington Palace.
Eto’o, who now plays with Sampdoria in Italy, famously tried to walk off the pitch during a Spanish match in 2006 due to the racist abuse he was suffering.
“Since that day, I decided I will stand up and fight against abuse,” he said after receiving his award, with Chelsea winger Eden Hazard, Liverpool defender Kolo Toure and former Barcelona midfielder Deco looking on in support.
“The only path is to stand up and shout.” The four-time African Player of the Year urged footballers to take a moral stand.
“Only we can make it stop. Because for certain, nobody is going to do it for us,” the 33-year-old said.
He also urged authorities to issue stiff punishments for those caught in the act. “If we give a 300-euro fine, you will see them doing it again,” he warned.
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 “no more”, before his team-mates persuaded him to complete the match.