Chelsea football fans packed onto a Paris Metro train, where the racist incident occured. Photo: AFP/Guardian News & Media Ltd/Getty Images
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All football fans – not just Chelsea supporters – need to show intolerance to intolerance

The racist behaviour of a tiny minority of fans should not poison the spirit of a club that has always attracted loyalty from all over the world.

Never have I been so disappointed to be a Chelsea fan. As a west London-born son of Japanese immigrants, I have always been proud of my support for Chelsea Football Club. They were my local team. The first professional football match I attended was a league cup game in October 1998. Italian striker and player-manager Gianluca Vialli hit a hat-trick in that cup tie against Aston Villa. Norwegian forward Tore Andre Flo also scored. The foreign exports were on display. Current Chelsea captain John Terry, who would later have his own criminal proceedings for racial abuse, made his debut in that game.

I fell in love with the club during that 1998 tie. “Stand up if you’re 4-1 up,” the fans and I sang. Here I was, a seven year old born in London yet ostensibly from foreign lands, singing alongside all ages, races and sexes because of communal support for a team.

A friend’s father, Lawrence Watson (Manchester City fan Noel Gallagher’s official photographer), took his sons and me to the game. He bought me my first piece of Chelsea merchandise: a blue woolly hat printed with the line “The Pride of London”. I, in turn, bought into the passion of 40,000 fans pushing on and revelling in their team’s success. It didn’t matter who we were or where we were from. Blue ran through our veins.

But the news story and accompanying video following Chelsea’s Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain prompted a rethink. How could I loyally follow a club with such support that has racist values at its stem?

It happened in a city in which I used to live. It occurred in a country that has recently dealt with its own share of disharmony. My year there was spent teaching at a secondary school in the outskirts of Paris. At least with the boys, European football was our mutual interest – race was no barrier in a city with many immigrants. A few of the pupils supported Chelsea over the French domestic clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain. Football was the great equaliser that could never discriminate.

But the views of the minority in the video do not reflect my experiences with the club and its home at Stamford Bridge. Actions in the video were representative of discriminatory men who happened to support a football team to which many also have an allegiance.

Chelsea fans have voted Ivorian Didier Drogba as its greatest ever player. Nine of its 22 players in the match day squad against Paris Saint-Germain were black. That figure would have been 10 had it not been for an injury to Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel. Only four were British. Chelsea had a Czech, a Dane, a Dutchman, an Ivorian, a Columbian, two Belgians, two Serbians, two Frenchmen, three Spaniards and four Brazilians. Manager José Mourinho is Portuguese and speaks five languages. Club owner Roman Abramovich is a Jewish Russian.

This is a club that was the first in English football to field an all-foreign starting eleven back in 1999. This is a club whose most promising youngsters are black British footballers such as Izzy Brown, Lewis Baker, Dominic Solanke and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Being racist is not intrinsic to being a Chelsea fan. And the racially-charged abuse should not be a battleground for rival fans to attack Chelsea’s general support base. Actions of a few should never represent the act of a majority nor the club itself – Chelsea Football Club has called for witnesses with a view to banning members and season ticket holders found guilty of racial abuse in the video.

The logical inconsistency involved in being racist while supporting a club with players from around the world shows the ignorance of those fans in the video provided to the Guardian. This incident should instead be common ground for football fans across the world to take action against discrimination – to have an intolerance to intolerance.

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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage