During the 1970’s and 80’s racism plagued the terraces of English football. Since then we have seen a decline in incidents in the English game, with a number of high profile campaigns such as the ‘Kick it out’ one. However, recent incidents around the globe suggest that we aren’t really winning the battle to kick racism out of football.
Chelsea’s recent pre-season friendly against Malaysia in the capital of the Muslim-majority country saw Yossi Benayoun subject to racial abuse. The Malaysian FA has sinced apologised for the incident, but is an apology really enough?
In recent months the problems in Eastern Europe and particularly Russia have also come to light. Racism is entrenched in Russian fan clubs with links to ultra-nationalists and neo-nazis. The legendary Roberto Carlos has been subject to blatant and sickening racial abuse, over the past few months. One such incident saw a Zenit fan offering him a banana, Zenit were subsequently fined $10,000. Krylya Sovietov fans recently chucked a banana onto the pitch, which led Carlos to leave the field in disgust, they were again fined $10,000. Peter Odemwingie was another who suffered in Russia, and the way the Russian Federation swept the incident under the carpet, showed that they are in complete denial of the problems.
The question then is why in a country where the problem is so inherent, were Russia awarded the 2018 World Cup. To give the World Cup to a country whose level of racism and racist violence on and off field is tolerated, shows that FIFA have absolutely no respect for any of the anti-racism campaigns or human dignity. Russia have said they will prepare an anti-racism campaign, but the effect this will have remains to be seen.
These aren’t the only country’s that suffer with the problem though. There have been serious incidents throughout Europe. In Spanish football, we had the Luis Aragones affair, where he infamously made a slur against Thierry Henry, which the Spanish football federation failed to act upon, thus setting a precedent for future events. English players have also been on the suffering end of racist abuse when playing in Spain. Samuel Eto’o is another who was constantly the subject of racial abuse in Spain and now in Italy.
Italy is another that has failed to deal with the level of racism in the game. Mario Balotelli was a serial target for racist abuse, after one incident Juventus had to play a match behind closed doors and were fined, but again it doesn’t seem to be solving the problem. Italy is supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy on racism, but only 3 of the big teams have active anti-racism campaigns-Sampdoria, Siena and Serie C1 side Hella Verona. It seems that many European Federations are not doing enough to solve the problem and most are in complete denial that there is a problem
Even in England, racism still exists on and off the field. It has decreased, but there are still a lot of cases which don’t get the media attention that they should. Frederic Piquionne suffered racist abuse at West Ham, and Port Vale midfielder Exodus Geohaghon this year quit football, saying he was forced out by racist abuse. The problem goes as deep as the grass roots, which could put many talented youngsters off the game. It is inherently a problem in the board room as well, as there is still only one black manager in the football league in Chris Powell, this is certainly a cycle that needs to be broken if we are to make progress in kicking racism out of the game.
It seems the problem of racism is still just as inherent in football as it is in society. It stems from ignorance, whether we are talking about football or the wider world, so better education is definitely needed, but what more can be done? Some suggestions are lifetime bans, massive fines and prison sentences, docking points and even banning teams from competitions. It appears that the ‘Kick it out’ campaign has had some effect in England, so more high profile campaigns like that on a world scale are necessary, and higher punishments in European nations who are far too lenient. Clubs themselves also need to take individual ownership of the problem, they need to do more to reach out to communitys, schools, fan groups.
Racist incidents in football need to gain far greater media attention and there needs to be greater punishments on a global scale. Racism will always exist in society, because ignorant and intolerant people will always exist, but we have to make better attempts to kick it out of the beautiful game for good and stop sweeping the issue aside.
Let me know your thoughts on what more we can do to remove racism from the game, comment below or follow me on Twitter @LaurenRutter.