The utterly detestable issue of racism reared its ugly head once more last week. Rather than lauding Manchester City’s courageous 2-1 victory out in Moscow, we are instead talking more about happenings off the pitch than on it.
Premier League star, Yaya Toure, among others was subjected to malicious and totally despicable monkey chants throughout much of the match, something that has no place in society let alone football. Indeed much of the abuse originated from Sector D of the Stadium Khimki, an area which has since been forced to close for one game following UEFA’s condemnation of the events.
This is a major step for UEFA who have in the past been content to fine clubs rather than tackle the issue head on. A fine of a few thousand pounds has often been perceived as meaningless considering the financial power of so many of the offending clubs. UEFA’s new protocol is to close part of the stadium on first offence, close the whole stadium for a secondary offence and finally exclude or dock points third time round.
Although the closure of part of the ground may seem a lax punishment, many of the offenders will probably just sit in another area, what it does do is send out a clear message to rest of the world. The stigma attached to a banning order is not just detrimental to CSKA but also to the whole of Russian sport.
With the Winter Olympics in Sochi on the horizon and the World Cup in 2018, the eyes of the world will be on Russia. The events of the last fortnight will come as a huge embarrassment to a nation keen to use these sporting events to elevate their countries reputation. All that is happening of late is that Russia, along with much of Easter Europe, is getting an, albeit generalised, reputation of being an area that tolerates this kind of behaviour.
The fact that the UEFA venue director didn’t hear or recognise the monkey chants even after the referee and fourth official had told him to follow protocol and make a stadium announcement just further emphasises the cultural problem here.
UEFA have since made the following announcements from Nyon regarding the incident:
“The Uefa venue director at the Arena Khimki has been relieved of his duties.”
“The venue director acted inappropriately, though in good faith,’’ Uefa said.
Failure to follow protocol will be a lesson to other venue directors and represents a much tougher line taken by UEFA on the issue. However, it like so many other initiatives doesn’t tackle the root cause.
There is evidently a cultural problem in many of the former Soviet states, there is a degree of acceptability surrounding this kind of behaviour and if these associations want to be embraced by UEFA things need to change fast.
I think it was Stan Collymore who hit the nail on the head when he suggested that although UEFA’s line was harder, it isn’t a ploy that will ever stop the offenders from being racist. I’m not speaking from experience but clearly a partial stadium closure is unlikely to change someone’s inherent state of mind.
Like so many things the answer lies in education, starting from school level children need to be taught about diversity and inclusivity. Their despicable social norms about treating certain citizens as second-class, because that is what racism for me embodies, need to be eradicated.
Isolated cases of racism are sadly always likely to exist, in a crowd of people you will always get one idiot, but when there is a general culture of discrimination then there really is work that can be done.
The eyes of the world will be in Russia and steps must be taken if they want to avoid the ignominy of a continuation of this trend.
UEFA’s line whilst not perfect definitely represents an improvement on their sanctions of the past. Full stadium closure and points deductions should prompt clubs into action, action which in my view should be about changing cultural norms above all else.
Hopefully there will come a point when we can focus on the football, rather than the hideous sideshows so often encountered by clubs in Eastern Europe.
Is this a small step towards a solution from UEFA?
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