A stain on the game that continually rears its ugly head

Although always an underlying issue in the game, even in 2011, the issue of racism within football has reared its ugly head recently with a passion. Not only have we had to contend with allegations of racial abuse by crowds, but also by opposition players during games. Despite massive efforts with campaigns such as ‘kick it out’ in the game, the problem does not seem to be going away and is arguably getting worse once again – or just more publicity on an issue that has been going on for years.

It is a sad fact that in the top European Leagues, racism is something that is more prominent than in the Premier League, with Roberto Carlos having a banana thrown at him in the Russian league, and players in Italy and Spain suffering torrents of abuse at the hands of the crowds. As Ashley Cole and SWP will testify, monkey chants are a favourite of supporters.

Whilst UEFA and FIFA have taken action against teams for the behaviour of their supporters, albeit with a paltry fine or on the rare occasion playing behind closed doors, at least they are attempting to cut this out. More clearly needs to be done on this scale with points deductions and playing behind closed doors for an extended period of time becoming what should be the standard punishment for racial abuse in the crowds directed at players.

Where there is little effort from governing bodies to eradicate such abuse however is when it is alleged that a player from the opposition team has made a racial slur to another player.

It would be hard to forget the ‘mono’ ‘mucho morro’ incident that marred the Classico semi-final in the Champions League, with footage seemingly showing that Barcelona’s Busquets had called left back Marcelo what translates as a monkey. Real complained to UEFA yet they felt all Busquets had said was ‘you’ve got a nerve’. In such a highly fraught game, that is about as likely as Mad Mario staying inside on Bonfire night.

Again in La Liga the issue has come to the fore surrounding a Barcelona player – this time Cesc Fabregas who is alleged to have racially abused Sevilla’s Freddie Kanoute. This may go some way to explaining the bizarre loss of control displayed by the striker at the end of the game, yet Fabregas has made strong denials of making such a slur.

The issue in Spain is worse than in the Premier League crowd wise, as here it is virtually unheard of for crowds to chant in such a way, yet the problem of players using racist taunts is still a huge one.

Manchester United captain Patrice Evra has made a formal complaint over the behaviour and comments of Luis Suarez, and the FA are currently investigating if England captain John Terry was guilty of similar behaviour in the game against QPR.

The fact that John Terry, captain of our country, is accused of such an issue speaks volumes, and the problem goes to the very highest level of the game. It initially appeared that Terry and Ferdinand were involved in a misunderstanding, with JT issuing a denial and saying he was merely repeating a comment Ferdinand accused him of making – claiming he had not. Ferdinand however was unaware of such a conversation between himself and Terry, and only became aware of the allegations after the match.

No matter who is being accused of making such a comment – player, pundit or manager, the sanctions, if the person in question is found guilty, should be of the very highest nature. The issue is actually finding them guilty in the first place.

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This is something that governing bodies seemingly shy away from unless there is indisputable evidence – pundit Ron Atkinson being caught live on TV would be an example of this – yet when coach Luis Aragones of Spain infamously called Thierry Henry a negro de mierda, the RFEF were fined one day’s wages by UEFA. Such a pathetic stance on such a deplorable comment speaks volumes about the way UEFA view such comments, and their reluctance to find players guilty of similar accusations is a major reason why this is common place in the game of football.

The FA are just as guilty of this, with a classic example being when Everton’s Lescott and Howard claimed to have heard Newcastle player Emre using the N word towards Joseph Yobo; yet after complaining to the FA they stated they felt just as on trial as Emre was, and that the whole process left them ‘thoroughly disillusioned’ (Guardian).

Such a reaction by the FA and the way the complaining party is made out the be lying is something that cannot be allowed to continue, as this will prevent players from coming forward, and leave them thinking ‘what is the point?’ It also gives the impression to offending players that they are able to say such comments and face little or no sanctions.

A point to ponder is that of Carlos Tevez’ rumoured lawsuit for defamation of character against manager Roberto Mancini. Should the player proceed and win, thus setting a very dangerous precedent, players accused of racism could easily then launch a counter complaint and possible lawsuit citing that the accusing player is guilty of defamation of character. This, coupled with the FA’s seeming reluctance to find players accused of such slurs guilty, could well see the increase of racially abusive comments and in turn players refusing to make complaints about them.

This is something that cannot be allowed to happen, and despite massive efforts being made with the ‘kick it out’ and ‘show racism the red card’ campaigns, more could be done, especially with regards to insults from fellow players. As Robert Earnshaw said, the maximum punishment possible should be thrown at the offending player, as racial abuse between players is as ‘bad as any offence in the game’.

Yes it is true that efforts have been made, and successfully in some cases to eradicate racial abuse from the game, especially in English football, but further effort is needed. From a continental perspective, a great deal more needs to be done, not only with regards to insults between players, but chanting from crowds during games.

The only solution is for FIFA, UEFA and the Football Associations of individual countries to clamp down as hard as humanly possible on such allegations, and continue the work being done with ‘kick it out’ and similar campaigns, and should individual players be found guilty of slurs of a racist connotation, lengthy bans, stripped captaincies and hefty fines should be incurred. The possibility of points deductions should not be ruled out either. Only then can we being to truly eradicate such disgraceful behaviour from the game.

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