Racism in any walk of life is completely vile and unnecessary. Frustratingly, even in the ‘beautiful game’, football, no effort has been made to prevent racism from happening. Slogans. Paltry fines. Captains reading out impassive pre-prepared statements over the tannoy. Further paltry fines. Meaningless T-shirts. When nothing significant changes, when words fall on deliberately deaf ears, when punishments are forgotten too easily, when the authorities do not make the effort help, eventually there will come a time for direct action.
A brave and powerful message, in football’s attempt to bring the poisonous undercurrent of racism to an end, came from the football boot of Kevin-Prince Boateng who currently plays for AC Milan. Maybe you might want to take your kids along to get a close-up view of some of Milan’s players. Maybe you might think it is appropriate to aim racist insults at some of those very players. Shamefully, unbelievably, some people evidently did. And because of this, Boateng picked up the ball and kicked it in their direction and visibly upset, headed for the tunnel. Boateng removed his shirt and walked. Spontaneously, applause broke out from the majority of the crowd. Boateng having put his shirt around his neck applauded back. In that moment, there was recognition that his act of defiance was an important step in the struggle against racism.
There are those who argue that this form of protest is letting the aggressors win, that the best way to counter it is to ignore it and keep playing. However it is hard to sustain that argument when it does not work. The aggressors have clearly not understood yet via any other attempts to reject such moronic behaviour.
This incident has raised many questions and much public debate. Should these players have left the field of play? Why do these incidents occur? Do these incidents imply racism is an issue that refuses go away? What should be done to prevent this behaviour? These are by no means new questions; many of which have been raised in several countries over the years as part of wider movements to combat racism in society.
The governing body of football, FIFA, has made no effort to reduce the amount of racist incidents occurring. For example, the Serbian FA were only fined ??64,946 because their fans racially abused England’s players, whereas Nicklas Bendtner was fined almost ??20,000 more for displaying a bookmaker’s logo during a celebration. That seems fair; advertising without permission is evidently more serious than racism…according to FIFA. Why is it that in modern society, racism is being treated as just a small issue by FIFA? Why is that every time a racist incident occurs, it is just brushed under the carpet? Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president claimed racism was not a problem in football and that black players should remember it is ‘just a game’ and ‘shake hands’ with their abusers. Is that a joke? I find it disgusting how they could use such condescending comments, but what also concerns me is that the head of our world organisation has had to make apologies on more than just a few occasions. He almost seems untouchable.
Furthermore, during the 2010-11 season, there were 43 arrests for racist chanting at football matches in England and Wales, the highest total since 2005-6. The Times newspaper (UK) reports a survey in which 41 per cent of supporters polled claim to have seen or heard racial abuse, particularly racist chanting, in the last two years. A further 27 per cent had done so in the last five years, whilst only 32 per cent believed that racism on the terraces had been ‘practically eliminated’. These statistics reveal the need to overcome complacency and ensure the battle against racism continues through a mix of educational, stewarding and policing measures. All those with a stake in the game ‘ fans, clubs, the governing bodies and police – have a responsibility to ensure that football stadiums and their immediate vicinity are free of racial attacks. Growing awareness of the problems, and measures such as better training of stewards are assisting that process. The rise in police arrests is pitiful and until arrest figures match the reality of the problem, fans and players will lack the confidence to actually report incidents and those affected will continue to stay away.
In any case, whether it is in football, any other sport, or in day to day life, racism is still a serious issue. The fact that many fans are racially abusing players in modern society is worrying. The fight against racism is a long-term struggle that involves raising awareness and education that the discrimination and intimidation of another person because of the colour of their skin is unacceptable on the sports field, or anywhere else. If we don’t raise awareness, and insist to ignore every incident, the situation is just going to worsen. Without awareness and education, our children will think it’s acceptable to be openly racist at football matches, or anywhere else for that matter. Is that what you want?