FEATURE | Iñaki Williams – Star striker on the pitch, social educator off it

Whilst many football fans across the world are familiar with Athletic Club forward Iñaki Williams, they might not be so aware of his parent’s traumatic travels from Ghana to Bilbao and Williams’ ongoing battle against racism.

Nearly two weeks ago, Williams and former Senegalese Basketball professional Sitapha Savané were invited onto Spanish current affairs show Salvados on La Sexta to chat about racism.

This documentary style show, which is similar to the BBC’s Panorama, has previously seen interviews with the current Pope and Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro.

This is what Iñaki Williams had to say.

Incident vs Espanyol

One incident which Spanish football fans may remember is when the Athletic Club forward was racially abused in Espanyol’s stadium at the start of 2020.

This was the first topic which presenter Gonzo asked him about.

“I perhaps didn’t react in the best way to the insults, but everyone could see what had happened. Since I started playing football nothing like this had ever happened to me,” Williams said.

“It’s true that I had seen it on the TV but that felt far away from me, and when you experience it yourself it’s not good,” he added.

Despite this experience, Williams is clear that he wants to play his part in educating society about this social ill.

“If it has to happen to me so that people change their attitude or open their eyes, I will accept it and deal with it in the best way possible.”

He also stated that he had the full backing of his club and teammates.

“When the incident happened to me in Cornellà, everyone supported me. Iker Muniain as club captain told me that these incidents could not be repeated, and if they were, all of my teammates would leave the pitch.”

But it is not on the football field where Williams experiences most of his racism, but in ordinary life.

Everyday racism

“There are many incidents which, if I was not Iñaki Williams, the footballer for Athletic Club, I would experience it like others do,” he said.

“For example, when a black person goes into a restaurant and people act as if they are going to leave without paying, or entering a clothes shop and the employee follows them because they think they are about to steal from them,” he continued.

The Athletic Club forward also admitted that he had, in his youth, been shoved against the wall and handcuffed without doing anything wrong.

“When you grow up, you start to see incidents in which people aren’t treated equally,” he said.

Presenter Gonzo then told Williams and Sitapha Savané that a black person is 42 times more likely to be detained than a white person.

“The statistics speak for themselves. I didn’t know that particular one and I am shocked,” Williams said.

He then used his mother as an example of another type of everyday racism he has lived.

“My mother was recently looking for a flat and the real estate agent does not know who she is nor that the sort of money that we have at our disposal is much more than what they could even imagine, but they showed her flats as if my mother had just arrived, had no money, and assumed that she could not buy any of them,” he said.

“My mother laughs at this in irony but if people knew who she was they would not treat her in this way,” he added.

The presenter than asked if Williams thought the real estate agent would change their attitude if they knew who she was.

Laughing and smiling, Williams responded, “Yes, and the prices would increase!”

Black footballing idols

Gonzo’s next question was about black footballing idols.

He asked Williams if he thought him being a black footballer (he was the first black footballer to ever score a goal for Athletic Club) would help children go to school more relaxed.

“I went to school proud to say that I was the next Samuel Eto’o. Now many children have the opportunity to say that they are Iñaki Williams and I feel proud and privileged to open the minds of many because of this,” he said.

“Many parents can call their child the next Iñaki Williams or simply see that they can live a life without prejudices,” he added.

Son of Ghanaian Refugees

Williams had previously spoken about his parents who were born and raised in Ghana.

Over the last few summers, we have grown accustomed to seeing migrants cross the Mediterranean in search for a better life.

“I have grown up seeing images like this and I always asked my parents, did you come in a dinghy? They told me no,” he said.

“But when I turned 18, they considered me an adult, so they sat me down and told me that they crossed the desert, that they were cheated, and that they didn’t know what was going to happen,” he added.

Fortunately, Williams’ parents had a luckier fate than many who undertake this difficult crossing.

“They arrived at Melilla, and there is where they had to act fast… thank god they found a great person, a lawyer.”

They were then able to travel to Spain in search for this better life.

“Destiny chose that they went to Bilbao where they met my godfather, Iñaki. He is the one who helped my parents find a job, flat… and that is why I am called Iñaki,” he said, smiling.

Gonzo then showed Williams and Savané a five-minute documentary that the Galician presenter filmed in the south of Spain where refugees live in awful conditions and are constantly taken advantage of.

“If my mother or father knew that they would live in these conditions, they wouldn’t have undertaken this journey. They wouldn’t leave their siblings, parents and cousins for a future they know isn’t going to be better,” he said.

“The people who come here think they are going to live a better life than the one they have in their country of origin,” he added.

Gonzo then asked Williams about far-right party Vox, whose anti-migrant discourse has been gaining increasing traction over the last few years.

“If I told you what I really thought about them I would get into trouble,” he said.

“I hope and wish that people don’t take any notice to such nonsense,” he added.

Star striker on the pitch, social educator off it

Iñaki Williams is one of the most well-known players in Spanish football.

The Athletic Club forward has scored five goals and assisted four this season.

The Basques drew 1-1 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-finals against Levante, and although the Basque side finds itself in 10th place in LaLiga, under Marcelino’s stewardship they are doing a lot better.

Whilst Williams is an important player on the football pitch, fans might not be so aware of his battle against racism and his personal family story.

Being a son of migrants, and an idol for many Basque children, Williams can play a vital role in educating people about racism.

And he knows, at the same time, that he has a few special followers in his parent’s country of origin.

I have been to Ghana before. I have grandparents there who follow all of my matches and I can’t wait to return.”

James Felton

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