The issue of Racism in football has been quite old as the sport itself. Despite the many reforms put in place by independent Football Associations across Europe and other notable associations such as Kick It Out, racism continues to rear its head.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela (Long Walk To Freedom)…
Racism in football is the abuse of players, officials, and fans because of their skin colour, nationality, or ethnicity. Some may also be targeted because of their association with an opposing team. However, there have been instances of individuals being targeted by their own fans.
The last decade was particularly marred by racist incidents on and off the pitch as football associations grappled with it. Superstar footballers just as lesser known footballers were at the receiving end. The feeling across a wide spectrum is that footballing bodies are playing hide and seek with the issue, as measures put in place are not punitive enough.
Over the years, racism has taken different forms. Racist chanting in the 1970s and 1980s often took the form of members of the crowd making monkey noises at black players on the pitch. Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger was a reported victim in the most recent case in the English Premier League, in the London derby between Tottenham and Chelsea.
Other forms of abuse have been more specific. For example, after the Deptford fire in 1981 when 13 black youths were burnt to death, a chant that could be heard at Millwall was: “We all agree Niggers burn better than petrol”.
Most recently though, Sunday January 5, 2020, in the first Serie A game of the decade; Mario Balotelli was the subject of racist chants by the visiting Lazio supporters.
Anti-Semitic chants have also been heard. Tottenham Hotspur supporters and other supporters of Clubs with Jewish affiliation have been targeted. Other chants are more closely linked to patriotism.
It has somewhat been institutionalized as on December 5, 2019, a leading Italian daily newspaper Corriere Dello Sport was accused of fuelling racism with its front page headline of ‘Black Friday’ alongside pictures of Inter Milan’s Lukaku and Roma’s Chris Smalling.
Recently, speaking to Onze Mondial; Cameroon and Ajax goalkeeper, Andre Onana, had this to say:
“There is something that we don’t mention much. Being a goalkeeper of colour, African, you are undercut, you are seen differently. It is up to us to make a difference. Two years ago, after the Europa League final, I was talking to a club in Italy whose name I will not give. We were talking quietly and the sports director said to my agent: A black goalkeeper is complicated here”. But I was happy. They didn’t tell me I was a bad goalkeeper, they said they didn’t want me because I was black, it’s different. This is something I cannot control. I am black and I am proud to be black!”
With technological advancement, racism is no longer limited to stadiums or streets, these days, it stares at you in the face. With the advent of social media, it has got more worrying.
Footballers are now targeted online, directly. Eniola Aluko, Troy Deeney, Granit Xhaka amongst many of their professional colleagues, have been victims of this form of abuse, the latter of the trio, had to logout of social media.
The internet is the new frontier of racism. While social media companies are trying to curb the menace, Brandwatch, the digital consumer intelligence agency that has carried out research for UK anti-racism charity, Kick It Out, recently provided a sobering set of statistics.
Examining the year between November 2018 and 2019, it found an overall increase in abusive coverage towards football teams online, with some social media platforms (including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) experiencing an increase of 600-900%. The most worrying aspect to this is that, an abuser may one day, decide to drop his phone and then decide to carry out his/her threat.
Having examined Racism, and its evolving forms, how then do we curb the menace?
FIFA and UEFA alongside other FA’s have tried in dealing with the issue, however efforts have been underwhelming and results are not encouraging.
UEFA’s Three-Step protocol on racism, allows for referees to stop the game, once the incident has been brought to his notice and request for an announcement to be made across the stadium, asking spectators to immediately stop any racist behaviour.
The second step calls for the referee to suspend the game for an extended period of time, say five to ten minutes, if the racist behaviour does not stop, and further announcements made.
As a final resort, if the racist behaviour continues after a second restart, the referee can definitively abandon the match. The UEFA delegate responsible for the match will assist the referee, through the fourth official, in determining whether the racist behaviour has ceased. Any decision to abandon the match will only be taken after all other possible measures have been implemented and the impact of abandoning the match on the security of the players and public has been assessed.
After the match, the case is referred to UEFA’s disciplinary authorities. While the protocol has been in 2009, it has not yielded any tangible result.
I think for this menace to be reduced to a significant level, there need to be a massive re-orientation for the next generation, the evils of racism – Nazism, Fascism, Apartheid, should be taught in schools. There need to be a paradigm shift in the way of thinking and reasoning.
Also, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), needs to empower its members—footballers to be able to walk out of football games, if they or their team mates are subject of racist abuse, whether or not they have the backing of their clubs or footballing associations.
Doing so would set a precedent, that enough is enough, as the fans would know that tickets purchased for watching the game would be useless and would not be getting value for money spent.
While supporters that have been found by clubs are being banned for years or life, in some occasions, have been welcomed and such club fined by the footballing association, a more stringent sanction like points deduction should be put in place.
In so doing, fans would know the risk any racist supporter would pose to their darling club and would even help in reporting the racist bunch within them.
Football clubs should also know that they run the risk of playing a certain number of games behind closed doors, if their fans have been found to be of racist behaviour over a period of time.
Those carrying out threats and abuse online, before their accounts are deactivated, they should be reported to the police and made to face trial, with jail time a viable option, fines are just a slap on the wrist.
Lastly, authorities need to hold football clubs accountable. While football clubs provide entertainment value, they should also endeavour to demand, uphold and maintain social and ethical standards from followers.
By Lucas Ifeanyi Uwagwu. Twitter: @usual_suxpekt