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It Turns Out That Racism In English Football Is Not So Bad After All…

Paulo DiCanio says “hello” to the Lazio fans
Image by Negsonker on FLICKR

Every time there is a race-based incident in English football, we all hear about it. It’s in the papers and all over the Internet, including Rantsports. Though there are many things wrong with professional football and the English Premier League in particular, the fact that such a big deal is made of these incidents is actually a good thing.

The fact that there are court cases, FA hearings and sternly-worded pieces means that it bothers people and they are doing something about it. Racism is no longer tolerated by the majority of fans, players, or administrators, and action is being taken. Slowly, racism is being squeezed out of English football (I say “slowly” because that’s how attitudes change).

What doesn’t get enough attention, or enough punishment, is the racism that is far more pernicious across the rest of Europe. As recently as Thursday, 20th Sept, three black players from Tottenham Hotspur were racially abused by fans of Italian side Lazio. Though the two sides have a reasonably cordial relationship through Paul Gascoigne, the Lazio Ultra’s are known for their right-wing fascistic leanings, so the event sadly isn’t too surprising.

Throughout Europe, banks of fans chanting racist abuse—something that is a thing of the past in England—still goes on. Nigerian forward Peter Odemwingie cites it as the main reason he left Lokomotiv Moscow, where he had been a big success on the field.

After Russia won the right to host the 2018 World Cup, UEFA Anti-Racism head, Dr. Rafał Pankowski, accused the Russian Football Union of downplaying racist chants in stadiums, saying, “Nazi slogans are common in many Russian stadiums. Matches are often interrupted with racist chants aimed at black players.” The list of players who have spoken about racist abuse in Russia is depressingly long.

However, this issue is not just limited to Eastern Europe. In Spain, Cameroonian star striker Samuel Eto’o was frequently the target for racist abuse and said that he never wanted to bring his children to games for fear they too would be abused. In recent years both Madrid sides have been fined for racist chanting and former national coach Luis Aragones has been fined for conduct which could be considered to be racist.

High-profile players such as Mario Ballotelli (when he was in Italy) and Gerald Asamoah in Germany have also suffered racial abuse, and there are plenty of accounts in countries like Holland, Sweden, Belgium, and France. Most incidents are responded to with tiny fines or just resigned acceptance of the status quo.

For me, the difference is that when these incidents happen in England, there is genuine shock and outrage. Most people can’t believe these attitudes still exist. When Blackpool striker Jason Euell was racially abused by a single Stoke fan, old-school manager Harry Redknapp said, “Anyone who does it should be put in prison – not banned from football. Stick them where they belong, in the nut-house. It’s wrong.” I’m sure this is the attitude of the majority of people throughout the world. UEFA and various European Football Associations need to perhaps follow England’s example in having an absolute zero-tolerance approach to it.