London (AFP) – Arsenal midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles claims he has endured similar racist abuse to Manchester City star Raheem Sterling.
Sterling allegedly suffered racist taunts from a Chelsea fan during City’s 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
The shocking incident has reignited the debate over how to tackle racism in football after the sport struggled for decades to eradicate the problem.
Now Maitland-Niles has revealed his own disturbing experience of racism.
Asked if he has been on the receiving end of racist abuse, the 21-year-old replied: “Yes, I have. Not at a professional level but growing up in the youth ranks.
“I think it’s disgusting, honestly. I really do credit Raheem for coming out and standing up for himself and other players and speaking about it.”
A week before Sterling’s incident, Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana skin thrown in his direction as he celebrated in front of Tottenham supporters after opening the scoring in the north London derby.
England Under-21 international Maitland-Niles said his own encounter with racism came during his time in Arsenal’s academy.
“It was pretty much similar to what Raheem got to be honest,” he said.
“I literally went out to pick up the ball for a throw-in and there was a bit of racial abuse behind me.
“What can I do? I just got on with the game, as he did. It hurts. It hurts me to talk about it.
“It hurts to think about it. But I think that’s why it’s so important that we need to get rid of it from the game.
“It’s not just footballers who need to be on board with it. It’s everyone else: the press, the media and the staff as well.
“To me, responding to it is scoring a goal to put their team down. I only thought they were doing it because I was having a good game.
“I guess that’s one way of them sort of trying to knock me off my game and make me feel uncomfortable about myself. But to be honest, I just try and play my football and not really say much about anything.”
Maitland-Niles revealed he informed football authorities of the incident, but nothing was done.
“At the time, I just spoke to my dad about it and he did sort of give me the heads up and showed me a few things about racism before my time, when I was playing football, just as there still is in the game now,” he added.
“As we’ve seen, from Raheem Sterling coming out to speak, so like I said before, I think we just really need to put our heads to it and get it cut out as soon as possible.”
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