Ecuador’s national soccer team, known as La Tri, grabbed the world’s attention after it qualified for the 2002 World Cup for the first time ever. Their impact on the international stage reverberated beyond soccer; they also helped prompt an important conversation about race and national identity in Ecuador. With a team largely composed of Afro-Ecuadorian players from the Chota Valley, La Tri challenged stereotypes about what Ecuadorians are “supposed” to look like, and drew attention to one of Ecuador’s most marginalized regions.
They also exposed the deeply embedded racism and colorism that black players often face – not only at home, but around the world. This type of discrimination reared its head last week, after Peruvian journalist Phillip Butters made a series of horrible racial slurs about La Tri player Felipe Caicedo, who also plays for RCD Espanyol.
Discussing the upcoming World Cup qualifying match between Peru and Ecuador, Butters stated that Ecuadorian national team “is not black, they’re crocodiles.” Suggesting that a DNA test of Caicedo would reveal him to be “not a human, but a monkey, a gorilla,” Butters then asserted that “if the [players] bite you, you’ll get Ebola.”
These types of hateful comments could trigger anyone to retaliate, but Caicedo showed maturity and resolve with his response. Instead of directly addressing Butters, the striker took a page out of Michelle Obama’s book (“When they go low, we go high”) and instead took to social media to thank everyone for their support in speaking out against the comments.
Caicedo tweeted, “Thanks to everyone who have spoken out against racism, it is clear that this man does not represent Peru. He only represents the lack of values—the complex and hate of someone who suffers for others. Say no to racism.”
The 28-year-old Ecuadorian has been receiving support and praise from a wide range of people. In a show of solidarity, the former President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa even tweeted his support for Caicedo.
This is definitely not the first or last time that racism will rear its ugly head, but Caicedo’s grace is a positive example.