The soul of wit
17 March 2018 12:53 (South Africa)

Do your job and act on racism in football, Fifa!

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

  • Sport

Another week, another incident of vile and public racism in Spanish football. The problem can no longer be excused as isolated, and Fifa can no longer shrug their shoulders and leave it up to the domestic federation to respond. Enough is enough. Radical action is needed, something more than hackneyed slogans thought up by blokes in suits. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Just seven days after Barcelona’s Dani Alves picked up and ate a banana thrown at him, racism in the stands in Spain has hit the headlines again.

During Levante's shock win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday, a group of fans were visibly making monkey chants aimed at Senegal's Papakouli Diop. Diop responded by doing a dance, a move which irked Atletico's players, without them knowing what had transpired while the player went to take a corner.

"It's an issue that has affected me a lot. I went to take a corner and part of the Atlético support began doing monkey chants," Diop said.

"To take the heat out of the situation, I started to dance, but I didn't insult anyone. I don't have anything against the Atlético supporters because it was only a section of their support that shouted at me. I think it's disrespectful that it happens at all stadiums. It's a provocation. I don't know if it can be called racism, but the monkey chanting has to be stopped now."

Spain’s struggle with racism in football is well-documented, but eradicating the issue remains a struggle. Villareal identified the fan who threw a banana at Alves and cancelled his club membership and banned him from entering their home stadium. Other, smaller sanctions have also been imposed previously, but they clearly aren’t helping and the problem isn’t going away. The most basic level of response is non-existent. The monkey gestures at Diop happened in clear view of police and stewards, yet they remained unmoved.

That those who are employed to guard players against harm and control crowds are unresponsive when such incidents occur right in front of them speaks volumes about how mammoth the issue is.

It is the responsibility of the sport’s governing body, Fifa, to raise awareness around the issue and implement an actioned response for racist incidents. Those fans making those gestures should have been evicted from the stadium and charged, plain and simple.

Fifa’s response, or rather, lack of response, has, as ever, been infuriating. At the time of writing, there had been no response from the sport’s global governing body condemning the behaviour and calling for action. They will wash their hands and leave it up to the club and the Spanish Federation to act, but that can and should no longer be accepted if the issue is out of control.

Fifa loves masquerading as living up to their mission statement, but a child carrying a bag with a slogan on it is not going to eradicate a deep-seated problem. The action and the response to it needs to stretch much further than rich old suits pretending to care. Enough is enough.

The response from Spain – and Fifa – is often that racism is something that just happens amongst a few select individuals. That statement can no longer be accepted, not when it’s something that happens in plain sight, week in, week out. It can no longer be accepted when players of colour constantly speak about how they feel irked by the racist abuse hurled at them week after week. And it can no longer be accepted, because even one fan acting in such a vile manner is a big problem.

Racism has no place in modern society. That it still happens publicly without any shame from the perpetrators is damning. If sanctions are not helping, police aren’t responding and fans aren’t bothered about getting banned, the response from those in charge has to become more radical. One of the most radical moves could be docking points from team whose fans are repeat offenders.

To punish a club for the behaviour of their fans might be harsh, but it is one way to make it clear that the custodians of the sport have zero tolerance for such repulsive behaviour.

Docking points from a club whose supporters are guilty of open displays of racism could lead to better action from police. It will also be the first step in clubs taking responsibility for educating their fans around racism. It’s not a problem that is going to disappear overnight. Racism remains entrenched in society, passed down from one generation to the next, and deconstructing a belief system that is viewed as acceptable is not going to go away by simply repeating a few slogans.

Fifa are quite clear on their view on racism, on their website at least. Article 3 of the Fifa Statutes states:

"Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion."

This applies to every match and competition organised by Fifa. Furthermore, the Disciplinary Code must be obeyed by all the associations and their respective members, including clubs, officials, players, match officials as well as any other persons Fifa admits to a match or competition, including spectators. However, zero tolerance action remains limited, and as long as Fifa continues to remain superficial about the issue, it is failing the sport. It is failing it’s players and it is failing society, too.

If they want cues on how to make a point about racism being wrong, they only need to turn their heads to the National Basketball Association. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life after recordings were leaked in which Sterling could be heard making racist comments.

John Amaechi, a retired NBA player who grew up in England, put it quite simply: “If they can do that to respond to a hateful private utterance, why the hell can’t football do that to respond to repeated instances of hate-mongering?”

It’s a very good question. Fifa will probably have a new slogan for it all very soon. DM

Photo: Levante UD player Papa Diop during press conference in Moscow, Russia, 13 March 2013. EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

  • Sport

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