NICOSIA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Omonia Nicosia’s French-born Benin forward Mickael Pote is waging a personal war against racism in Cyprus.
Pote, 30, has reacted angrily to monkey chants directed at him twice since November and been booked for protesting.
“I’ve heard these sorts of noises before, during a game, but it was usually isolated and so I never reacted. This time it was from a large group which made it difficult for me not to react,” Pote told Reuters.
On Nov. 30 fans of champions Apoel Nicosia directed monkey chants at Pote and the former Dynamo Dresden player applauded before impersonating a monkey by curling his hands towards the side of his body.
Pote has only been on the island since the start of the season but he is the first black player in Cyprus brave enough to fight back against racist abuse.
Pote, top scorer in the Cypriot league this term with nine goals, was booked by the referee for inciting the crowd but it was Apoel who were later punished for their fans’ behaviour.
The Cyprus FA handed the club a 10,000 euros ($12,300) fine and closed the stand where the abuse came from for one match.
Pote suffered more monkey chants in early December when Omonia played another fierce rival, Anorthosis Famagusta, and this time he went through the correct channels and told the referee what he could hear from the stands.
An announcement was made over the stadium tannoys, pleading with fans to stop the abuse. The game finished but afterwards Pote approached the section where the racist chants came from, in an attempt to come face-to-face with those hurling abuse.
“The anger accumulated inside of me and I just lost it. I regret losing my temper in that situation, like I always regret it when I lose my patience,” he said.
He added that he felt disappointed that black players from opposing teams had not had the strength of character to approach their own fans to tell them to stop the racist abuse.
“These players do not have any personality, they are scared of their own fans’ reaction,” he said.
However, the Benin striker said he had been overwhelmed by the support he had received from his club and their fans.
He has also had hundreds of messages of support from Apoel fans, ashamed of other supporters’ behaviour, fellow professionals on the island and Apoel club captain Constantinos Charalambides through the local media.
This has given Pote the strength to continue his fight, although he is concerned that racist behaviour will reflect badly on Cyprus and discourage players from moving to the island for fear of the same kind of treatment from the fans.
“These incidents will not scare me to leave Cyprus, I’m stronger than the racists. Their actions give me strength and make me want to play stronger — it will never get me down,” he said.
1 = 0.8147 Euros Editing by Michele Kambas and Ken Ferris