Racism in football, and what’s being done to combat it

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Football likes to be known for its inclusiveness, with supporters uniting to cheer on their club no matter what, yet racism has always been a pressing issue for the sport. Lately there have been multiple cases of racist chants and abuse from the supporters, and while other sports have been moving forward, Football, for many reasons, has struggled to change. Only a few weeks ago, the England national team heard racist chants coming from the home crowd as they played away to Bulgaria, and Serie A have had more problems with some of the clubs “Ultras,” who have been a constant issue when it comes to this topic.

On Monday 14th of October, Bulgarian fans were seen making Nazi Salutes and singing racist chants at the England team, and although the fans were repeatedly asked to stop, the racist abuse didn’t cease. UEFA has a three strike rule in place to deal with issues of this sort: if players complain about the abuse three times to the referees, the match will be called off, but this was clearly ineffective. The England players complained twice about the crowd and twice the crowd were warned, but although the abuse continued, England did not complain again. The reason for this?  Their certain win would be called off and the game would have been rendered useless. What makes this even more of an issue is that the stadium had been reduced by 5,000 seats as a punishment for racist chants in June. On Tuesday the 29th of October, UEFA revealed the new punishments following the game: two games behind closed doors and a £65,000 fine for Bulgaria. When compared to Delonte West, who was forced to pay $25,000 by the NBA for sticking his finger in Gordon Hayward’s ear, a £65,000 fine to an association much richer than Delonte West for something as serious as racist chants, shows that punishments in football are a lot weaker than in other sports where racism is less of a problem.

Another big story this season has been the racist chants in Serie A games, notably directed at Romelu Lukaku when Inter Milan played Cagliari. Not only were Cagliari cleared of racist chants towards Lukaku as there was not sufficient evidence, but the Sardinian side was also investigated earlier this year for racist chants towards Moise Kean, and they were able to escape punishment then too. Inter Milan’s hard core fan group, Curva Nord, also issued a statement in defense of Cagliari, stating, “In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up.” They then suggested that the Cagliari fans resorting to racism was, in a way, a sign of respect; they knew how much of a threat to their club Lukaku was. Not only does this statement prove racism is more than the occasional name calling by a few fans, it also shows that groups like Curva Nord see it as a valid way of hindering their opposition. This example also shows how ridiculous it is that investigations into the racist chanting did not find sufficient evidence, when other fans at the game, who supported the use of chants, openly admitted that it was going on.

Very recently, Haringey Boroughs players walked off of the field after hearing racist chants from the crowd in an FA cup game between them and Yeovil. At first they were commended for making a stand, and the police have got involved. However, Raheem Stirling stated that he did not feel walking off was the right thing to do. He believes that by walking off, you are letting the racists win and you have shown that they have gotten to you. In this case, 10 days after the game was called off, Haringey Borough met again for the rescheduled match and yeovil won 3-0, allowing Yeovil to move on to the first round of the FA cup despite the behavior of their fans.

Racism has not just affected football in the grounds. There has been racist treatment of players from coaches, other players, and now with social media, racist abuse carries on after the games online. It only in 2004, when Ron Atkinson one day hadn’t turned his mic off, that ITV accidentally aired Atkinson calling Marcel Desailly a racial slur.  Although he was fired from ITV at the time of the incident, he has since gone on Celebrity Big Brother where he made another racist remark, and only 3 weeks ago was announced as England’s director of football at the Socca world cup. In 2001, the FA apologized to black football players for the racism they had to deal with in the 1970s and 80s at the hands of coaches and managers, but also the treatment from the fans that went as far as putting bullets in their letterbox. Lastly, John Terry, one of the most famous English footballers, and former England captain, was taken to court in 2012 over racist abuse towards Anton Ferdinand during a game. Terry was punished by the FA and given a four game ban, but as his career quickly carried on to how it was before the incident. Rio, Anton’s brother, was left out of the Euro 2012 England side, and the reason was rumored to be because of doubts over whether he would get along with Terry.

In recent years, charities such as Kick It Out and The Red Card have been working to combat racism with Football, enlisting the help of some of the largest names in the sport to support the cause. These charities put out ad campaigns, visit schools, and back positive movements, such as the Times manifesto, for a drastic change in how racism is treated and punished in Football. Raheem Sterling, however, who also backs the Times manifesto, has come out and said that it will take more than wearing special t-shirts, as Kick it out have encouraged players to do over the years, to actually combat racism. When asked to, many players have refused to work for Kick It Out as a result of the charity not doing enough to increase punishments for racist abuse. Most notably, Joleon Lescott refused to wear the branded T shirt before games after Emre Belözoglu was not punished when investigated for racist abuse towards Joseph Yobo, despite Lescott giving written evidence.

So what associations like UEFA and the FA are having to rethink now is how to deal with acts of racism, from fans, players or anyone else in the footballing world. Firstly, it is widely agreed on that fines must be larger, and although larger fines could affect a player more seriously, it has been shown to be ineffective when trying to punish racist chants from fans. I personally believe that reducing the amount of seats avaliable is just not harsh enough, as it does not necessarily stop racist abuse from the crowd. Stadium bans should be preferable, but the bans are short, so unless the attitudes of the fans change, it just delays the problem. A popular suggestion is for teams or nations to be docked point or kicked out of tournaments if the fans, players or staff carry on inciting racist abuse. Although this would certainly make people think more about their actions and the consequences for their team, it looks like it could be a while before punishments of this sort might actually be used. Social Media allows anyone to have a voice, and this means anyone can speak out against ridiculous punishments or unsuccessful investigations. As long as these incidents are kept in the public eye and are critiqued, football associations will have no choice but to crack down on racism, and hopefully it wont be long until incidents like those in Serie A, Bulgaria, and across football, become a thing of the past.