We all like to think British football has come a long way since the 1970s. Gone are the days of riots, referees turning a blind eye to leg-breaking tackles, tiny shorts and awful haircuts. Most importantly perhaps, no longer are black players like Viv Anderson, who was 18 at the time, pelted with apples and pears whilst warming up, or abused by their own fans, as was Chelsea’s Paul Canoville before his debut in 1982. Although these events no longer occur in Britain, over the past couple of years racism has creeped back into our game, and the incident in Serbia last month shows how there is a long way to go before the rest of Europe reaches the same level.
Euro 2012 was memorable for many reasons: Spain’s record third major trophy in a row, England losing on penalties again, and a topless woman grabbing the trophy with the words “f**k Euro @012” written on her chest to name but three. Sadly it was also notable for racism. Before the tournament had even started, Holland’s black players were subject to monkey chants from Polish spectators and in the match between Russia and the Czech Republic, Theodor Gebre Seassie, the first black player to play for the Czechs, was also the victim of racist chanting. What was the punishment for these teams I hear you ask. Point deductions? Expulsion from the tournament? Hardly. Russia and Spain were fined a grand total of £40,335, Croatia £65,000 for their abuse of Mario Balotelli. Denmark’s self-professed sensation Nicklas Bedtner was fined €100,000 for wearing the wrong branded underwear. Here lies the main problem, FIFA, UEFA and all of football’s governing bodies are not taking the fight against racism seriously enough.
Thankfully, these horrific scenes are no longer seen in the Premier League. A racism of a more discreet and individual nature has unfortunately reemerged however, particularly after the advent of twitter. Racist fans have taken to the social network site to express their bigoted views towards the likes of Newcastle United’s James Perch, and to both Ashley Young and Ashley Cole after they missed penalties for England against Italy in Euro 2012. Thankfully it is relatively easy for them to be tracked down and prosecuted.
Two events during last season’s Premier League caused a great deal of controversy on the pitch. Within days of each other John Terry and Luis Suarez were accused of racist language towards opponents. Both incidents took place in fiercely contested local derbies. Terry was accused of calling Anton Ferdinand a “f****** black c***” whilst Suarez was heard to have responded to Patrice Evra by saying “porque tu eres negro” when asked why he had kicked him, “because you are black”. Although cleared of any criminal offence, Terry has recently been charged by the FA and fined a meagre £220,000 and given a four-match ban. Suarez was fined £40,000 and given an eight-match ban.
Whilst the Premier League is by no means on the same level, there is clearly a lot more to be done, both in Europe and at home. In this era of £100k a week salaries, fines simply do not work. Countries whose fans or players are found guilty of racism should be made to play games behind closed doors, have points docked, or, in Serbia’s case, be kicked out of future World and Euro Cups. England Under-21s’ Danny Rose was subject to monkey chants on the 16th October in Serbia, as was Nedum Onouha against the same country in 2007. Furthermore players must present a united front. Kick It Out’s recent campaign was undermined by Jason Roberts, Rio Ferdinand and thirty other top-flight players who feel the organisation isn’t doing enough to fight racism. Whilst the players are undoubtedly well within their rights to decide against supporting the campaign, the decision was questioned by top managers, “He really should be supporting all the other players who are doing it” was Sir Alex Ferguson’s response. Although there are arguments for and against Jason Roberts and co’s view, Lord Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out has defended the organisation, “We don’t make the decisions, we don’t run football. We are a small charity trying to help football come to terms with the reality of the 21st century”.
Football has certainly come a long way since the dark ages of the 1970s and 1980s, but there is still a long way to go, not only in Europe. Bans and points deductions must be implemented for racist crowd behaviour, and players who are found to have racially abused opponents must receive much harsher sentences.