On June 14, while discussing the pending football match between Peru and Ecuador for the 2018 World Cup qualification, Phillip Butters, the host of a TV program called “ComButters”, referred first to the Afro-Ecuadorian players, and then centered specifically on one of them, Caicedo, calling him a monkey and a gorilla.
With the Bolivians in Lima, there's no big problem. […] Afterwards, we'll play against Ecuador in Quito. The Ecuadorians aren't black, they're mountain crocodiles. They have biceps in their eyelids, brother. If they did a DNA test on Caicedo, he isn't human, he's a monkey. A gorilla.
A wave of opinions followed. There were many demonstrations, in favor and against, across social media and the press.
Lamento decirte q es lo contrario, gran parte de los Peruanos somos como él, por eso tiene tantos seguidores. Nuestra ignorancia lo ensalza
— Uriel Davalos C (@udavalos) June 17, 2017
First tweet: Phillip Butters should apologize! Inexcusable and degrading comments about the Ecuadorian players and every person. For shame!
Reply: I'm sorry to say that it is the opposite, a large part of Peruvians are like him, and this is why he has so many followers. Our ignorance exalts him.
Butters no es ni homofobo, ni racista. Parece que le tienen tirria a @Phill_Butters porque piensa diferente a ustedes.
— Giancarlo Quispe (@gian_511) June 16, 2017
Butters is not homophobic or racist. It seems that you all can't stand @Phill_Butters because he thinks differently than you all.
Afro-Peruvian grassroot organisations and activists signed a press release titled “United against racism and discrimination!”, which not only condemned the sportscaster's statements, but also underlined the systemic racism that the Afro-Peruvian population experiences. It also criticised the show's guests on the day Butters made the comments, Carlos Navarro and Omar Ruiz de Somocurcio, for not challenging the declarations of their host.
The group made reference to the cultural diversity of Peruvian society and demanded compliance with the Peruvian constitution's second article:
Our country's constitution mentions, in its second article, second paragraph, that every person has the same right to ‘equality under the law. No one should be discriminated against because of origin, race, gender, preferred language, religion, opinion, economic position or any other factor.’ Also, lets remember that discrimination is a criminal offense in article 323 of the penal code.
They also added:
Through different kinds of media, taunting, mocking, objectification and animalization of people of African descent is systematic and unpunished. In that sense, we express our most forceful rebuff and we call out the responsible Peruvian state institutions to finally guarantee the right to equality and no discrimination against the Afro-Peruvian population.
The group's statement also emphasised the need to create national plans to fight discrimination and strengthen the organisations that currently work on the issue.
Butters’ comments and the swift reaction of the Afro-Peruvian movement also prompted statements from different government sectors. The Peruvian Federation of Football described the comments against the Ecuadorian players as unacceptable and discriminatory, while noting that they are part of a pact against racism together with the Ministry of Culture and other sports-related organisations in the country. The minister of culture also spoke about the comments:
Considering sportscaster Philip Butters’ degrading comments about our Ecuadorian brothers made on Wednesday, June 14 on his program #8220;Combutters” for Willax TV, the Minister of Culture:
- Denounces every damaging act of racism aimed at anyone or any group.
– Reminds the press and the media of their fundamental role in spreading values to the citizenship.
– Reminds the public that the Minister signed a pact against racism with the Peruvian Federation of Football, the Peruvian Football Sports Association, the Peruvian Institute of Sport, and all the professional clubs, and calls upon the press and society to join them in rejecting all acts of discrimination.
During Afro-Peruvian Culture Month, the Minister of Culture reiterates the necessity to eradicate these behaviors. Racism is not normal and it is not acceptable, together let's make a change.
That is not how Peru plays!
The outrage reached the Ecuadorian government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made an announcement in which they stated their disgust over the sportscaster's statements, labelling them as “deplorable” and said they reveal an “attitude of intolerance and bad journalistic practice”.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno tweeted a message of support to football player Felipe Caicedo, assuring he is someone Ecuador is proud of:
— Lenín Moreno (@Lenin) June 17, 2017
The color of skin is part of the rich diversity of this country. @FelipaoCaicedo, Ecuador is proud of you.
Values, also on the field!
As a result of the pressure from Peru, as well as from the neighbouring country, Willax TV channel suspended the “ComButters” program until the host makes a public apology.
However, the sportscaster refuses to apologise, arguing that he is not racist and that the statements are just part of football slang and in no way have racist implications. Butters gave this controversial response on his radio program, where he went on to attack the Ecuadorian minister of culture, Salvador del Solar, calling him “an idiot” for rejecting the racist insults.
They have made a travesty out of colloquial football talk.
Ecuadorians call us ‘chickens’ and we call them ‘monkeys’ (…). We have historic geographic, political, military and football rivalries with them.
For his part, footballer Felipe Caicedo expressed gratefulness on Twitter for all the words of support he received. He agreed that Butters does not represent Peru and rejected racism. Furthermore, he confirmed that he plans to sue the sportscaster given his refusal to make a public apology, in order to:
- Make an example out of this personal offense by looking for a suitable punishment.
- Create a strictly sporting environment regarding the qualifying match in Quito.
In an interview for the media outlet Perú21, Afro-Peruvian journalist and activist Giovanna Carrillo Zegarra shared some thoughts on the role of the media in the normalisation of racism in light of this case:
The media has a great responsibility in society, which is to not repeat stereotypes, not amplify them, not to repeat racist actions, and not be the perfect refuge for reporters or anyone with a television program who believe they have the right to humiliate, animalize, or discriminate.
The controversy isn't over, but many are hoping that this situation starts a discussion that leads to concrete actions to overcome racial discrimination in Peru.