Crystal Palace striker Wilfried Zaha has stepped up his call for educators to make children more aware about diversity after his experience of racial abuse online.
The 28-year-old Ivory Coast international had to switch off his Twitter account because of the volume of hate messages he was receiving, including abuse from a 12-year-old boy who was arrested by West Midlands police. The boy subsequently expressed his “extreme remorse” after receiving education sessions. Zaha believes all schoolchildren need educating about racial issues.
“I was racially abused over Instagram, by a 12 year old child,” said Zaha. “To be filled with so much hate at such a young age doesn’t make sense to me, and incidents like this are only going to continue until we properly educated our kids. Left to their own devices, children will naturally play together, because in their minds they are the same and they want to have fun with their friends.
“That 12-year-old, for example, had abused four other players as well, from different accounts. I think that this case needed to be more than just a slap on the wrist: I requested that he was made to complete an educational course on race and diversity. The kid eventually made a big apology, but it does make you think: are you genuinely sorry for what you have done, or are you just apologising for having been caught out?”
Zaha’s comments appear in a personal essay for the 15th Anniversary issue of GQ Style, which is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and celebrates positive black role models.
He believes that the teaching of history in particular is too narrowly focused and excludes the experience of the black community.
“I was taught about Henry VIII – how many wives he had, and which of them lived and died – but not once was I taught about African kings and queens, let alone about any Black British history. Kids need to be educated properly about the past, in order to form tolerant views for when they come out of school.”
Zaha, Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Wycombe’s Adebayo Akinfenwa received 50 per cent of the total online abuse recorded during a Professional Footballers’ Association Charity study and for Zaha it is not a recent problem.
“The night before Palace were due to play at Manchester United, I opened up my Instagram to find a message from someone saying: ‘I hope you break your leg and go back to the slums of Croydon.’ This was to be the first abusive message of many throughout my career.”