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May 28, 2017

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Lilian Thuram says to fight racism with pride and belief

COTONOU -- When Lilian Thuram first went to Benin in 2006, he made an emotional pilgrimage to the coastal town of Ouidah, where black African slaves were forced onto ships, shackled and bound for a life of misery and servitude.

France's most-capped footballer recently returned to the tiny west African nation, bringing with him a message of hope and inspiration, not against slavery but the modern-day scourge of racism, in a new book championing black role models.

Last week's visit by Thuram was timely: during his trip, a global storm of protest blew up when a Villareal fan threw a banana at Barcelona's Brazilian defender Dani Alves during a La Liga match.

For Thuram, who ended his career in 2008 at the Camp Nou, Alves' reaction — to pick up the banana and take a bite — was the best response to the bigotry that still exists on the terraces as well as on the pitch.

"Everyone has to have the capacity to defuse things. The most important thing is not to be violent," he told an event organized by the Zinsou cultural, educational and artistic foundation in Benin's commercial capital, Cotonou.

"That's why I've done this book: when you understand the mechanisms of racism, you don't suffer from it. You know that it's the people throwing bananas who've got a problem!"

In January last year, Ghana striker Kevin-Prince Boateng led his AC Milan team-mates off the pitch when he was the subject of racist chanting during a friendly match.

UEFA recently announced tougher sentences for clubs found guilty of racist incidents involving their fans but for Thuram, a person's pride in his or heritage is also key.

The theme forms the basis for Thuram's "Mes Etoiles Noires: De Lucy to Barack Obama" (My Black Stars: From Lucy to Barack Obama), featuring the black men and women who have made history and inspired him.

The book, backed by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers, is now being sold in 11 Francophone African countries and in Haiti for less than five euros (US$7).

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