World Cup winner Lilian Thuram using fame to fight racism
Former France international Lilian Thuram won the World Cup, the European Championship and the Italian league twice, but is now using his football fame to tackle racism and inequality.
Stockholm: Former France international Lilian Thuram won the World Cup, the European Championship and the Italian league twice, but is now using his football fame to tackle racism and inequality.
"What I can do today is thanks to what I did in football. I use the fact that I was a footballer to take up these subjects with children," Thuram told Reuters in an interview at a school in the socially-disadvantaged Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby.
The former AS Monaco, Parma, Juventus and Barcelona defender, who retired in 2008 because of a heart defect, was making his second visit to the Swedish capital on behalf of his Lilian Thuram Foundation to talk about racism.
"If someone is racist, it`s very difficult to get them to change the way they view the world," he said. "That is why it is important to meet with children -- to warn them that they can become racist.
"It`s possible to be a victim of racism and be racist oneself at the same time. For me, racism is about equality.
"You can be black and denounce the treatment you are subjected to, and at the same time be a misogynist or a homophobe," he added, outlining why he had come to Rinkeby, where roughly 80 percent of residents are first or second generation immigrants.
Thuram has previously said that football is still struggling to rid itself of racism, and a recent video of Chelsea fans appearing to racially abuse a man on the Paris Metro shows that football and society still have a long way to go.
The former France international is determined to do his bit to combat the problem. An imposing yet friendly presence, he immediately put the 200 excited Rinkeby school-goers at ease by inviting the shyest students to join him on the stage.
Over the course of almost two hours, Thuram explained to the captivated audience his belief that society is historically built on categories connected to gender, religion, sexuality or skin colour.
"It`s very important that children are aware of the division into categories. And not allow themselves to be shut into categories, or to put others into categories. That is the trap," he said.
"It`s also extremely important that they ask the question `do I have prejudices?` And unfortunately, the answer is probably that we all have prejudices."
Thuram has lost none of his energy seven years after retiring from football when a heart problem was discovered in a medical examination before a proposed transfer to Paris St Germain.
He extended the discussion with the students well into their lunchtime and teachers had to get their excited pupils to disperse after an extended round of selfies and handshakes.
Rinkeby`s diversity meant that the students he addressed were of multiple religions, and he used that fact to illustrate how prejudice can come about.
"I ask the children to raise their hands if they have the same religion as their parents, and it`s always the same answer -- everyone has the same religion as their parents," he explained.
"What is interesting is that children in some cases never question their religion. I think we need to say to children to question everything, to think freely and make their own opinions. That is what is missing."
After the last of the students and teachers left the hall, Thuram gathered his energy for his next public appearance in a downtown cinema for a discussion with an African film director.
He said he does not miss the days when he was well-paid for training once a day and playing big games twice a week.
"It`s important to give children intellectual tools, so that they can vaccinate themselves against prejudice."