Racism – the undesirable element
The beautiful game can be ugly at times, so ugly. By far, football is the world’s favourite sport enjoyed by millions of people around the globe. This monopoly, or near-monopoly if you shockingly disagree, has survived such setbacks as wars in the past. However, a seemingly undying canker has sworn to smear football’s plain white cloth with a stain that defies all detergents – racism. Undoubtedly, it is the biggest problem our game faces today.
Racism in football can be defined as discrimination, harassment or vilification of players, officials and fans based on skin colour, nationality or ethnicity. It could be direct or indirect, overt or covert. Sadly enough, the avenue that offers racism the most thriving platform is the football stadium, ironically a temple of love that draws people from all corners of the world. It is most unwelcome and alien to a strong movement that keeps the world going.
How a cultural phenomenon has crept into the football fold is of little evidence in the early days of the beautiful game. Fast forward today, in the course of a game, racist incidents almost keep at pace with other statistics. The game’s recent past is laden with a plethora of cases and Europe has become safe haven for this dreaded disease. Black players have been hard hit, with players from South America and the Arab world coming in for pockets of abuses.
One of the main staples of a monkey’s diet is banana. The fruit, widely used as an abusive item, is thrown at the victim, sometimes accompanied by wild utterances, obviously drawing comparisons between the player and the animal. The famous incident of Brazilian Dani Alves taking a bite of a banana thrown at him before taking a corner kick in a Villarreal vs Barcelona game readily comes to mind. Countless other players have suffered this treatment at one time or the other.
Legendary Cameroonian striker Samuel Etóo threatened a walk out after being abused in a game against Real Zaragoza, while playing for Barcelona. He had to be restrained by players of either side and the referee. In May 2017, Ghana’s Sulley Muntari walked off the pitch after being booked by the referee for reporting a racist chant to him. His side, Pescara lost 1-0 to Cagliari, with 10 men. In 2013, his compatriot Kevin Prince Boateng while playing in a preseason friendly for Milan against Pro Patria, kicked the ball into the crowd and stormed off the pitch amid attempts to stop him.
In 2008, there was a famous incident involving Egyptian striker Hossam Ahmed Mido. He played for Middlesbrough in a game against Newcastle United and was racially abused, alongside Islamophobic chants. That was too extreme. Arsenal’s Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang recently suffered the canker in a North London derby. The abusing fan was swiftly banned for life by Tottenham Hotspur. Only last week, Mario Balotelli was in the news, as usual. His club, Brescia engaged Hellas Verona in Serie A. He was allegedly abused by the leader of Verona’s ultras. The perpetrator has been banned for 11 years and authorities have instructed the partial closure of the club’s stadium.
In essence, how really is football fighting the menace? There is a number of campaigns in place to create awareness and intensify education. 14 European countries have come together to form FARE – Football Against Racism in Europe, to that effect. FARE collaborates with a sister body, Kick It Out, to take a bottom-up approach in solving the problem. They seek to start the process from grassroots to professional level and fund every like minded project. While this is laudable, the magnitude of the task calls for a much broader front to tackle it.
Now, what has been done at policy level? FIFA has instituted punitive measures ranging from warning, fines, playing behind closed doors, loss of points, expulsion from a tournament, and relegation of a club. These obviously are for varying degrees of the crime. To take it a step further, racism needs to have retroactive penalty just like match fixing. I recall the Calciopoli scandal in Italian football in 2006 when champions Juventus were stripped of the title and religated to Serie B, following an investigation. This must be applied appropriately in curbing racism.
The beautiful game of football is the passion of the world. It is one of the remaining few straws the world holds on to. It delivers joy and happiness to people from all walks of life, regardly their ages. It provides fame and fortune to people in their millions. It has gained roots in the recesses of our hearts and its light from within us illuminates the four corners of the globe. We cannot trade all these with a product of utter ignorance, not ever. It is non-negotiable.
Yours in the beautiful game Rossoneri