Arsenal midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles has called on football to unite behind “brave” Raheem Sterling’s fight against racism, revealing that he suffered from similar abuse when he was just 12-years-old.
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling was subject to alleged racist abuse during a 2-0 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend, with the player later issuing a statement accusing the media of “fuelling racism” in how it depicts young, black footballers.
Sterling’s response to the incident has been widely praised and moved the issue of racism in football firmly back into the spotlight, with Maitland-Niles, 21, revealing that he too had been the victim of “disgusting” prejudice during his youth career.
“It was pretty much similar to what Raheem got to be honest,” he said at Arsenal’s training ground on Wednesday.
“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.”
Maitland-Niles said that he had immediately informed the relevant authorities of the incident but that “nothing was done about it”. He instead received support from his family.
“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 said.
“As we've seen, from Raheem 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.”
The midfielder, who is expected to start Arsenal’s Europa League match at home to Qarabag on Thursday evening, added that he agreed with Sterling’s claim the media were helping to “fuel racism”, and hoped that his friend’s statement would help to make a difference.
He added: “Raheem is a good, brave lad for doing it and I just hope that more people put their ear towards him and have some sympathy for him, because it's not the first time it's happened and we just want it to be the last.”
Arsenal have already secured their progression to the Europa League Round of 32 as group winners regardless of the result against Qarabag on Thursday.
Manager Unai Emery confirmed that club captain Laurent Koscielny will make his first appearance for the first-team since rupturing his Achilles last May in the fixture.
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