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Racism in sports… a ‘war’ with no end!


Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly was a victim of racism in Italy<br /> Photo:

Discrimination against players based on race is a growing problem, mostly in European football.

Though, football-governing bodies that include FIFA, UEFA and clubs had dealt with the bigotry behaviour by meting out punishment to teams or associations of those involved in racism with heavy fines, but racial abuse is still rampant in football.

On weekly basis, football fans across the globe are confronted with incidents of players being targeted with bigotry behaviour by fans.

The racism ‘war,’ which has become a cancer that is eating deep into the fabric of football is escalating in Europe, on the football fields, mostly against black footballers. It has refused to go away.

Attempts to eradicate it from the football field have largely failed. Blacks are not given any opportunity to do anything beyond playing the game because they are considered ‘not intelligent’ enough to manage a ‘complex’ game like football.

In many European countries, there have been increased incidents of footballers, who are immigrants, non-white or from minority backgrounds being targeted as ‘other’ – often the recipient of racist chanting, remarks and abuse.

Statistics compiled by football anti-discrimination campaigners, Kick It Out, suggests there had been a 43 per cent increase in racist abuse in English football in 2018-19 from the previous season.

In 2012, UEFA punished Denmark international, Nicklas Bendtner with a fine of £80,000 for showing a Paddy Power logo on his underwear during a goal celebration.

In 2016, Croatia were fined €100,000 and handed a one-point ban in its Euro qualifying group after they played their qualifier against Italy on a field with a swastika etched on it. They were also ordered to play their next two home matches in an empty stadium.

In March 2018, UEFA fined Besiktas roughly £30,000 for ‘insufficient organisation’ when a cat ambled onto the pitch during a Champions League game against Bayern.

In October 2019, some Bulgaria fans made monkey noises towards Tyrone Mings, Sterling and Marcus Rashford as well as making Nazi gestures during a Euro 2020 qualifier against England. The Bulgarian national team was fined and also given a two-match stadium ban.

Bulgaria’s next qualifier against the Czech Republic the following month was played behind closed doors, while they were also ordered to display a banner with the words “No to Racism.”

And in December last year, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) called for a government inquiry into racist abuse, which followed alleged racist behaviour in the match between Tottenham and Chelsea.

Also last year, Greater Manchester Police arrested a man on suspicion of a “racially aggravated public order” during the Manchester derby in December 2019 . During the second half, Man United midfielder, Fred was seen pelted with objects such as lighters and coins by the Man City fans, as he was about to take a corner.

Another home supporter was also seen making racist monkey gestures in the direction of Fred and Jesse Lingard.

In March 2019, Montenegro fans racially abused England players, Raheem Sterling, Danny Rose and Callum Hudson-Odoi during a European Championship qualifier. Montenegro were handed a £17,396 fine as well as a one-game stadium closure.

In November last year, following a Liverpool-Man City game, online abuse aimed at Virgil Dijk and Raheem Sterling increased by 27,000 per cent. In the context of rising race-related hate crime – which grew 30 per cent in the year following the 2016 Brexit referendum – some fans became emboldened by a resurgence of jingoistic rhetoric.

Other cases of racism in football include a Shakhtar Donetsk player, Taison, who stormed off the pitch crying and frustrated after being racial abused by Dynamo Kyiv fans.

Perhaps, some of the most infamous racial incidents in recent times have taken place in Serie A.

Romelu Lukaku was on the receiving end of regular racist abuse since his arrival at Inter in 2019 from Manchester United. He was subjected to monkey chants, while Mario Balotelli kicked a ball into the crowd after receiving similar abuse at Hellas Verona.

When Lukaku complained of racist behaviour by Slavia Prague fans during a Champions League match, the Czech side denied such chanting happening – and instead called on Lukaku to apologise for his wrong accusation.

Racism, homophobia, xenophobia and sexism have flooded into European grounds, with the incidents proliferating in recent years.

Chelsea defender, Antonio Rudiger was a victim of racial abuse in his team’s win away at Tottenham Hotspur.

Crystal Palace forward, Wilfried Zaha, revealed in an interview for The Jackal Magazine saying: “they called me monkey or black in almost every game.”

Former Barcelona and Manchester City player, Yaya Toure told L’Equipe during an interview saying: “My son is not a football player because of racism.”

Some top personalities in football have suggested that stadium walkouts take place in the event of racist behaviour during a match.

Raheem Sterling…was racially abused during England vs Montenegro Euro qualifiers in 2019

Top among them were Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp and former Chelsea coach, Maurizio Sarri, who suggested the idea of referees stopping the game and players walking off the pitch to take a stand against racist abuse from stands.

UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, said last year: “The moment a match is stopped, or it’s not played, I think that 90 per cent of normal people in the stadium would kick the asses of those idiots.” “It’s 2019, it’s not 100 years ago.”

But Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling holds a different view, saying: “Walking off the pitch would only cater for the agenda of racists, ultimately giving them the power in the situation.

“I personally, I wouldn’t agree with it. Try to go out and win the game. I think that will hurt them even more. They’re only trying to get you down and if you do walk off the pitch, they kind of win. To score a goal or win a match, that beats them,” Sterling stated.

The Sun was quick to praise Raheem Sterling for hitting back at racist fans in Bulgaria.

“They’re less willing to acknowledge their own relentless character assassination of England’s most prominent black footballer. It wasn’t long ago they headlined Raheem as “Prem rat of the Caribbean”.

His club, Manchester City says it operates a zero-tolerance policy regarding discrimination of any kind, and anyone found guilty of racial abuse will be banned from the club for life.

Paul Pogba missed a penalty and social media was flooded with racist messages against the Manchester United midfielder.

Pogba says he won’t quit because of racism in football. “This makes me stronger and motivates me to fight for the next generation.”

President of the Movimiento Contra la Intolerancia, Esteban Ibarra, believes that the issues of the society are reflected in football.

“Football is permeable to the social state,” Ibarra told MARCA. “We are currently experiencing an increase in intolerance due to multiple factors and it is reflected in this sport.

“And that comes to the pitch with racist and xenophobic messages and with attitudes of violence, of hostility towards the opposing team, towards the players, towards the referees,” he stated.

Ibarra pointed out that education and the right application of the law is needed to prevent such incidents in the future, while the fraternity among footballers can serve as an example for the fans.

“It is essential to educate, apply the law and create a very strong social and media involvement to demand an objective: that politics stay outside the football stadiums,” he noted.

“We should ask the ultras to learn from the players, who have a high level of fraternity, and all this is facilitated by professionalism.

“A player today is at a club and tomorrow at another. One day he plays with Bulgarians, Africans and tomorrow he has teammates from any other area of the world at another team. Football players are used to diversity,” he stated.

In far back 1988, John Barnes had a banana thrown at him during the Merseyside derby. Cyrille Regis was sent a bullet in the post when he got called up for England.

If anything, racism in football has become more prevalent; the proliferation of social media has made it easier to target players with vitriol.

To some analysts, sports worldwide are unlikely to escape the endless loop of moral outrage following frequent cases racism.

They suggest that the FA needs to get serious about punishments and enforcements. Ultimately, the Premier League is about money. If games were called off and ticket revenues were diverted to anti-racism campaigns, things would change.

There are other suggestions that for the FA to reduce anonymity of racism, effective and equitable use of retina and fingerprint technology are needed to keep offenders out of stadiums.

Some analysts have also pointed out that there is the need to stop treating fans as part of the problem and start treating them as part of the solution.

That was the message from a group of Chelsea supporters who reported some of their own fans for racially abusing Son Heung-min during a premier league match against Tottenham.

When fans are in danger of losing the beautiful game altogether to racism, they should be given the means to fight for what is theirs.

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