Surely I’m not the only one to have a feeling of déjà vu? In January of this year I wrote a blog about allegations of racist abuse in football which had overshadowed various anti-racism campaigns and initiatives such as Kick It Out. Well here we are again, same old, same old. Is it too much to ask that those people in the higher echelons of English and European football finally take firm and decisive action around blatant racism on the terraces and on the pitch?
Take for instance the recent Serbia v England European UEFA Under-21 match, where a section of the Serbian crowd clearly racially abused Black players. Incredibly the Serbian Football Association issued the following statement “FA of Serbia absolutely refuses and denies that there were any occurrences of racism before and during the match at the stadium in Kruševac” Yes, you did read that correctly, senior officials of a governing body, members of UEFA since 1954 had the audacity to deny that racist chanting had taken place.
On the programme ‘Sports Tonight’ a member of the English press, present at the match, stated he heard monkey chants levelled at Black players throughout the evening. However, on the same show a Serbian journalist - trying to play down the event and that the National team should not be banned – said it was only about 10 or 15 people chanting. The football pundit and coach Leroy Rosenior was very clear in his response by saying it does not matter if there were only a few people chanting, the team should be banned especially as the Serbian FA have not taken responsibility. Serbia does have form in this area - Serbian football, like many European countries, the UK included, has to some degree been infiltrated by extreme right-wing groups.
In the Balkan region this is a particular problem. UEFA President Michel Platini has warned Serbia and Croatia in the past that there will be serious ramifications for further racist incidents but there has been no bite behind this bark.
This is the time for action, rather than get involved in a debate about whether or not Black players should wear the ‘Kick It Out’ t-shirts (and I see both sides of the argument). Enough is enough. The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has announced a 6 point plan, one of which states that racial abuse should be considered gross misconduct in player and coach contracts (and therefore potentially a sackable offence). It is a start but have UEFA followed suit and made a firm and clear decision? Well, not quite, the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body will meet on 22 November. Only a month or so then to wait before a clear message is sent to racist fans and racism denying football federations. But wait a minute, UEFA already have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach according to their declaration against racism adopted in 2005. Interesting then that the aforementioned Control and Disciplinary Body last week only fined S.S. Lazio €40,000 for what they call on their website “improper conduct of the club's supporters (racist behaviour)” during the UEFA Europa League group stage match in September against Tottenham FC. Add to this a €20,000 fine for Porto after their fans racially taunted Black Manchester City players (City were €30,000 for running onto the pitch late) and you get some idea of their interpretation of ‘zero tolerance’.
Just put yourself into the shoes/boots of Black players subject to racist abuse. How many of us would stand for going to a conference, being racially abused by the organizer, and then waiting over a month for someone to act? Or a colleague gets four weeks garden leave for using racially insulting language… not me, so why should footballers?
Bye for now,