As a white English male living on the outskirts of Essex, I rarely encounter racism amongst people in the locale and have been fortunate that wherever I’ve lived, I’ve not been subjected to the same. Sadly, many of my black, Indian and pakistani friends know only too well just how dehumanising such attacks can be.
Given the fractures that have built up again within society over recent years, it’s entirely likely that this vile narrative will continue for the foreseeable future. Racism is also a narrative that’s found it’s way back into football stadiums after having virtually disappeared.
Indeed, the football authorities around Europe had made great strides in eradicating it. Stadiums had become a relative safe haven for black players, years after the likes of John Barnes had to put up with having bananas thrown at them.
It’s no wonder that Barnes himself is now doing great work when it comes to rooting up the culprits of racism and holding them to account.
What a shame then that those in power appear to have retreated back into their shells and hidden behind a pathetic code of conduct, which players and officials have been told they must follow in instances of racist abuse.
We even recently witnessed Shakhtar Donestk player Taison being sent off because of his reaction to racist abuse that he was receiving. Kicking the ball at Dynamo Kiev supporters, before being led off of the pitch in tears, when the referee brought the teams back on after their protocol of five minutes delay, he was forced to send Taison off.
Surely, in such instances common sense must apply? But once again the authorities showed they have no backbone for the current fight against racism by upholding the decision. What message does that send out to the players most importantly, and to the fans?
Taking players off of the pitch for a pre-determined period isn’t enough. It’s not even close to being enough. We are at the stage now where games need to be postponed or, better still, clubs are deducted points if they’re unable to ensure their supporters – travelling or otherwise – act in a respectful manner towards their team’s opponents.
Italian football seems to have the worst culprits of racim at the present time. Barely a week goes by without there being news of one player or another being at the centre of a racism storm.
Mario Balotelli reacted in exactly the same way as Taison did when playing for Brescia against Verona, the latter’s supporters clearly heard to make monkey noises in his direction.
Verona’s protestations were eerily similar to Dynamo’s in that both clubs believe they were harshly treated – even though social media clearly showed their guilt.
Former Juventus player, Moise Kean, was a regular target and though his move to Everton apparently had nothing to do with the racist abuse, it’s hard to believe. Blaise Matuidi and Romelu Lukaku are two more black players to have been on the receiving end.
I wonder how they’re all feeling about the ‘open letter’ that Serie A’s 20 clubs have recently published. In it they talk about publicly recognising the problem, and not having done enough about it. Talk about closing the gate after the horse has bolted.
Suggestions that certain sections of a club’s support need to be ‘educated’ might be seen as heading in the right direction, but it’s a futile exercise if truth be told. The only way to get the top brass at football clubs interested in genuine action is to hit them where it hurts. In the pocket.
Either play an unspecified number of games behind closed doors, or dock enough points so as to make life difficult for the rest of the season. A few places difference in the table means a few million pounds/euros off of the balance sheet, and no club owner in Europe is going to accept that.
Paying lip service to the problem is a pathetic attempt to assuage the powers that be that ‘everything’s fine.’ It isn’t. Far from it. So let’s call it out and get it dealt with once and for all. No token measures this time.
Fellow supporters must play their part too, because there is simply no place in a football ground for these bigots. Reversing the narrative might actually see a modicum of respect on the streets as well. We can live in hope…