Romelu Lukaku has claimed he will never stop fighting against discrimination in the pursuit of a fairer society for future generations as he calls on social media companies to come together with football’s stakeholders to eradicate online abuse.
The Chelsea striker has been a strong voice in the battle against racism, making a stand throughout his career at both club and international level, as he believes his status as a role model and a father means he must continue to take a strong position on difficult issues.
‘It’s an important thing because I know a lot of young people look at me as a role model,’ he said in a recent interview with CNN to launch our No To Hate photo competition.
‘I try to do my best in every way possible, whether it’s through my work ethic or having the right attitude on the pitch, but stuff like this is close to the heart for me because I’ve been through it most of my life.
‘When I was in Serie A, I had a lot of help from the league because I made a strong statement about it. I said that we footballers are trying to entertain. Obviously we make mistakes, we miss passes or good chances but it doesn’t mean because of that you have to abuse somebody about his skin colour or religion or sexuality or whatever.’
While overt discrimination in football has still not yet been extinguished, it is the more anonymised abuse directed from online social media platforms that continues to cause most damage to players. Rarely does a week go by without someone in the game being insulted online, which is why Lukaku feels that discrimination in football is currently at an all-time high and why he has been thinking about the possible solutions.
‘I don’t really read comments,’ he claimed of his own online behaviour. ‘I just post and then leave because I don’t think it makes sense.
‘This stuff can really harm you. We see a lot of people harming themselves because of social media abuse and it’s not just footballers.
‘I think personally that if you want to stop something, you can really do it but they don’t and it’s a vicious circle. As players, we can boycott social media but it’s these companies that have to come and talk to the players or to the governments and find a way to stop it because I really think they can.
‘The captains of every team and four or five players with big personalities should have a meeting with the CEO of Instagram, the government, the FA and PFA, and we should just sit around a table and have a big meeting about how we can attack it straight away, not only from the men’s game but also from the women’s game.
‘We need to talk about the stuff that needs to be addressed, to protect the players but also to protect the fans and young players that want to be professional footballers.’
Lukaku has welcomed Chelsea’s latest initiative as part of our No To Hate campaign, which is the launch of a photo competition inviting fans worldwide to help demonstrate how sport can be a unifying force in society.
‘It’s very important that we as a club can make a statement and take a position because a lot of people look at us for this,’ he continued. ‘We have to take a very strong position against discrimination of all forms and hopefully it can inspire other teams to do the same.
‘From the owner to us players, we’re really putting out a statement that stuff like that should not be tolerated because in our team we have a lot of players that represent the club – different nationalities, different skin colours, different religions, and also in the women’s team where it’s the same.
‘As a club, we should be an example and basically say that whenever a form of discrimination is happening, we’re going to take a strong position and prosecute everything that is happening in the stands.’
On a personal level, Lukaku remains as motivated as ever in the battle for equality. It is important, he believes, to be persistent and proactive for the benefit of his family, football and wider society.
‘I have to fight because I’m not fighting only for myself but for my son, for my future kids, for my brother, for all the other players and their kids, for everybody,’ he added.
‘At the end of the day, football should be an enjoyable game. You cannot kill the game by discrimination, that should never happen. It is joy and happiness and it shouldn’t be a place where you feel unsafe because of the opinion of some uneducated people.’