In an exclusive interview with CNN Sport’s Darren Lewis, Borussia Dortmund midfielder and England international Jude Bellingham discusses his experiences of racism in football.
CNN Sport: „After (the) majority of games I’ll get a racist message in my Instagram inbox,“ says Jude Bellingham. There’s not a single job in the world where you deserve to be criticized with racism,“ he adds.
Jude Bellingham tells CNN Sport there are inconsistencies with the way football’s governing bodies deal with racism, compared to other incidents of misbehavior, given that FIFA has official rules holding clubs accountable for the racist actions of their supporters.
Bellingham’s brother, 16-year-old Jobe, is an up-and-coming professional footballer who also signed with Birmingham City FC. Bellingham celebrates his brother’s success, but is equally committed to making him aware of the obstacles that Black players face in football. „It’s important that I make him aware of challenges that he’ll face from a football point of view and also from a race point of view,” he says.
„Racism … It feels like one of those things that will never go away… I think there are people in power that can take more responsibility in that fight. And I don’t think they are,“ Bellingham tells CNN Sport.
Jude Bellingham reflects on the online racist abuse suffered by England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka following the country’s defeat to Italy at last summer’s UEFA Euro 2020 final:
“The biggest takeaway from the whole experience for me was the contrast. I think you look at the run-in into the final, it felt like the country had united and it felt like we were heading on the same path. We had players, Black players in the team, you know, players of all different backgrounds from all different countries in the team. And then as soon as they missed the penalty, they’re not English, they’re just Black […] Anyone could miss a penalty. Anyone can make a mistake in their line of work. But it’s impossible to be criticized like that. It should never happen. They’re human. Look at what Marcus (Rashford) has done with the with feeding the children. He’s bringing out books. He’s, you know, supporting people in that way. Jadon’s (Sancho), you know, got pitches in London, I think, released some boots that a load of people from his area felt proud of not. Bukayo (Saka) similar. All like top, top characters. And then you see them kind of brought down like that. It’s disgusting, but it’s hard to take, to be honest, as a teammate. It’s really like… Wow, because that could have been me. What if it was me who missed the pen? And all of a sudden, you know, you’re English for seven games, you miss a pen and you’re nothing.”
Jude Bellingham on the support he and Black England footballers received from England manager Gareth Southgate in the wake of the UEFA Euro 2020 final:
“Gareth Southgate was brilliant […] He’s always brought it up as a topic in meetings when, you know, we’re aware that we’re going to… Like for example, we went to Hungary two months after the Euros, two or three months maybe… same thing happened again. But we felt more prepared and we felt more supported because of what Gareth had put in place. I think and I think, you know, as a Black player, you feel very grateful for that.”
Jude Bellingham on his first experience of encountering racist abuse online in March 2021 following Borussia Dortmund 2-2 away at Cologne and the subsequent lack of action taken by German football authorities (DFB and DFL) compared with when he criticised referee Felix Zwayer following Borussia Dortmund’s defeat to FC Bayern Munich in December 2021:
“I always remember sharing the first batch of messages that I got after… We drew 2-2 away in Cologne. I think we gave away a penalty. It was half and half handball, I think. And I’ll never forget that was the first time I properly got a bunch of messages and I posted them just to say, you know, just another day on social media so people could see what it was like for me. And, you know, the club were quick to send someone to message me and make sure I was alright and I really appreciate that. I had teammates that messaged me, of course, family members, you know, and I didn’t really receive anything from the DFB or DFL or anything like that. And I always kind of compare it to when I said the thing about the referee in December, you know, they were very quick to get into contact to give me my fine, give me my punishment, kind of make it a big drama in the media. And, you know, look, I’ve learned from that […] I have to control my emotion better, of course. But, you know, when you give that more energy than the situation that I was, I felt like I was going through […] Maybe we are alone and maybe they’re not interested, maybe they don’t care. And maybe it is down to me and down to us to work independently to get our message out.”
Jude Bellingham on encountering racist abuse online:
“I say to my mum quite often, who I live with out here, that after majority of games I’ll get a racist message in my Instagram inbox. Whether it’s one, two or three can depend on what I’ve done in the game. The first couple of times I remember putting on my story and I get quite a good reaction in terms of people saying that they’re with me and stuff like that. And I feel like, you know, that doesn’t really cut it. I feel like there’s nothing anyone can do […] I’m a footballer. I turn up, I play football, I go home. I don’t think there’s not a single job in the world where you deserve to be criticized with racism […] But, you know, that’s the world we live in. And that’s why we’ve got to do more. That’s why the people in power have got to do more.”
Jude Bellingham on whether we’re living in a powerful age of athlete activism:
“Definitely. I think we’ve got a lot of, you know, Black people in in important roles within sport […] The Williams sisters, the Hamilton’s (Lewis Hamilton), you know, you’ve got the amount of Black players playing for England at the minute. We have people in good places. And I do feel like there’s only so much they can do, though ,because they’re giving their experience from their point of view […] I think that’s where football and sport has to unite. I think it needs the power of people who aren’t Black to see how much they’re struggling and how much it means to come together. And I’m not saying that that doesn’t happen at all. That’s definitely something that’s improving. But, you know, when you talk about the whole war and the whole thing, I think it can be done more.”
Jude Bellingham on the role his parents play, especially his mother, have played in preparing him life as a Black footballer:
“You know, my mum, my dad – two huge role models of mine because of the way they’ve obviously carried themselves, the things that they’ve had to face in their own journeys. And, you know, especially my mum […] She’s always given me a lot of lessons on how I’ll be perceived by other people sometimes because of the color of my skin, sometimes the way that we’re kind of stereotyped and stuff like that […] I say about my footballing heroes I talk about (Steven) Gerrard, I talk about (Wayne) Rooney, I talk about (Zinedine) Zidane. But I’ve got a Black woman that I live with every day and I see the way she carries herself. And for me, that’s, you know, you couldn’t have a bigger hero really.”
Jude Bellingham on being a role model for the younger generation:
“Being told you a great footballer is one thing. But, you know, when you’ve always been raised to first and foremost be a good person and then to hear that, you know, people are inspired by the things you say and the way you carry yourself. I think, you know, that takes it to another level of kind of pride within myself, but also it tells me that, you know, it makes me aware, again, of that responsibility that I’ve got. You know, I can’t let down your kids. I can’t let down other kids that look up to me […] it’s a responsibility that I’m willing to carry.”