Fenerbahçe midfielder Emre Belözoğlu, who previously faced accusations of racism when playing for Newcastle United in the 2006-07 season, has denied that he used a racial slur against Trabzonspor's Didier Zokora in Sunday's game.
Fenerbahçe's win against the Black Sea's Trabzonspor on Sunday was overshadowed when Zokora made a statement to Lig TV right after the game, stating that the 31-year-old player, popularly referred to simply as Emre, verbally abused him using a racial slur.
“Emre and I had an argument during the game. I beg your pardon for saying this, but he insulted me by saying ‘n----r.' What upsets me more is how disgraceful it is for a player who has African teammates like [Moussa] Sow and [Joseph] Yobo to insult an African from another team. I didn't reply to him to prevent a fight in the game,” Zokora said.
After Zokora's statement, Emre said both Zokora and he used “stupid” words when speaking to each other during a tense game, in initial statements on the incident made to a TV show on Sunday night. However, he later denied his earlier remarks and Zokora's accusation at a press conference on Monday, saying he misunderstood the question as he was riding in a car during the telephone interview.
Emre strongly denied claims that he uttered racist remarks and said when he called the TV show on Sunday night he only admitted to swearing at Zokora but not using the word in question. The Fenerbahçe midfielder added: “Racism is something that we never see in our culture; however, I saw how it exists when I was playing in England. Racism is not a social behavior, but something that exists in a person. If I have even a little bit of racism, may God take my heart away from this body. It is only a misunderstanding as Zokora's English is not so good, neither is mine. I have also spoken to Trabzonspor's manager Şenol Güneş and I'd like to thank him for his supportive telephone call.”
“In my opinion racism cannot be reduced to words; it is an inner thing and it is bad according to my faith,” he said during the press conference. Despite first admitting to it, Emre said he did not use the n-word, but said “p---k,” a word he learned during his stay in England.
Yobo accompanied Emre at the press conference. He said he has never experienced racism in Turkey and that he believes Emre is not a racist.
“I want to state that both Emre and Zokora are my friends. When it comes to racism it's something you don't want to see in football. I have not experienced or heard of such insults in Turkey. Football is a competitive game and a lot happens during the game and swear words are often used by players in tense games,” Yobo said.
When asked about previous allegations of racism Emre faced when playing in the Premiere League in 2007, Yobo said: “If I had believed Emre was a racist person I would not have come to Fenerbahçe at first. Emre has been my teammate for 18 months and our families are even friends.”
He added that what he saw during Sunday's game was both players making peace on the pitch and hugging each other.
All eyes are turned to the Turkish Football Federation (TFF). Emre faces suspension from four to eight games, in accordance with the TFF's disciplinary regulations, in the event that he is found guilty of using a racial slur.
Zokora's Trabzonspor is reportedly planning to press charges against Emre. The club will also file an official complaint with the TFF.
The Fenerbahçe player has faced allegations of racism twice in the past when he played for the Premier League side Newcastle. He was accused of making racist remarks to Everton's Yobo, who is now his teammate and who made an appearance at today's press conference, and Bolton's El-Hadji Diouf. Since the referees arbitrating the games did not themselves hear the words Emre was said to have uttered, no penalties were imposed on the footballer.
Racial slurs are condemned in international football and perpetrators are harshly penalized. Liverpool's Luis Suarez was suspended from eight games and fined 45,000 pounds after he made racist remarks to Manchester United's Patrice Evra during the two teams' game on Dec. 31, 2011.