Fighting For Justice, Tackling Discrimination, Racism In Soccer

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    (MintPress) – There are not many places of work where employees can expect to hear work colleagues shout racial slurs and abuse, monkey chants or throw missiles of plastic water bottles directly at a person’s head. In fact, you would assume that there would be an employment law banning this type of conduct or a criminal law prohibiting threatening behavior and assault. Black soccer players in Europe see this vile behavior as a part of the game of international soccer.

    Even though there are laws of equality and discrimination that protect the average black European citizen, black soccer players are expected to deal with racial abuse on their own. Soccer governing bodies such as UEFA (Union of European Football Association) have been slow to act. They have struggled with this problem for decades and have found it somehow too difficult to enforce the law of the land on the soccer field.

    AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng is the latest black player to receive a barrage of racist abuse from the opposition fans during a friendly match with minor league Pro Patria.  Prince Boateng left the field in the 26th minute of the game in protest, he suddenly picked up the ball and smashed it toward the stand where fans were shouting racial slurs and monkey chants. The game was abandoned when the Ghana midfielder on his way off the field applauded other sections of the crowd who then appeared to react angrily toward the corner of the ground where the racist chants came.

    AC Milan issued a statement after the match saying, “AC Milan abandoned the match after incidents of racist abuse by a minority of Pro Patria fans at Boateng, Mbaye, Niang, Urby, Emanuelson and Sulley, Muntari. The rest of the fans in the stands disassociated themselves from such racist events.

    “Milan respects the right of all players. We need to stop these uncivilized gestures”

    Prince Boateng is the first black to successfully get the backing of his club to abandon a game. Usually in games where racial abuse can be heard, black players are expected to ignore the abuse and play to full time.

    Organizations like Kick it Out, which has campaigned against racism in sport, believe that the act of black and Asian players stoically continuing to play in an abusive game gives fans license to continue their racial abuse without recrimination, and it allows sponsors to get back their investment through the TV playback deals. This is the first time that a major club has acted quickly to a situation. By supporting its players, AC Milan is sending a clear message to fans everywhere.


    Fans want white only players

    It’s important to have a strong fan network in any sport. Sports fans have always had the power to influence the firing of failing coaches and ineffectual players but FC Zenit fans have taken fan power further and are demanding that their soccer club should not have any black or gay players wearing the FC Zenit jersey.

    Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg fans have reacted badly to the $64 million club signing Brazilian striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel. In a letter to the soccer club, Landscrona supporters club of FC Zenit campaigned that they want to stop the soccer club from buying non-white and gay players saying,

    “We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition,” the “Selection 12 manifesto would allow Zenit to maintain the national identity of the club, which is the symbol of St. Petersburg.” In that open letter to FC Zenit club, Landscrona fan club goes on to say “black players are forced down Zenit’s throat” and they added that gay players are “unworthy of our great city.”

    FC Zenit has a terrible history of racism, it has struggled to deal with a strong right wing nationalist movement in the north of the city and has been fined by UEFA and Russia Football Association several times for fans racially abusing black players. Zenit St. Petersburg was fined $10,000 by the Russian Football Union after one of its fans offered Roberto Carlos a banana. A few days later, Zenit said the fan would be banned for life from the club’s Petrovsky Stadium.

    In 2008, Zenit was fined $58,000 after fans threw bananas and monkey chanted at black Marseille players.

    This latest incident has led to Zenit and Russia striker Alexander Panov to come out and defend the club by saying that the fans have no right to influence the club’s selection policy.

    “All clubs around the world have black players. If they are absent from Zenit – it’s Zenit’s problem. I don’t think fans should demand the club buy or don’t buy certain players. The fans have the right to go to the stadium or stay home.”

    As usual, there was no comment condemning the racist fans. FC Zenit, like so many clubs across Europe, is silent on the issue of racial abuse from fans, they accept the fines served on them by football governing bodies, but solving the problem seems too difficult to try.


    Do fines work?

    In the last year commentators have questioned the effectiveness of fining soccer associations and clubs. UEFA fined Serbia for an on-field brawl and its fans’ racial abuse of England players at an ill-tempered under-21s match. Two Serbia coaches were also banned from soccer for two years for racial slurs, and Serbia players will also serve suspensions over the scuffles that broke out at the end of the European Championship qualifier in Krusevac. UEFA fined the Serbian federation $105,000.

    However, the English Football Association said the punishment was too light.

    ”We are disappointed with the sanctions levied by UEFA with regards to the racist behavior displayed towards England’s players,” FA General Secretary Alex Horne said. ”Let’s be clear, racism is unacceptable in any form, and should play no part in football (soccer). The scenes were deplorable and we do not believe the sanction sends a strong enough message.”

    UEFA has fined the German Football Association $31,200 after fans displayed a neo-Nazi flag at a European Championship match. The Spanish FA was fined a mere $60,000 after the black English players Ashley Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jermaine Jenas and Jermain Defoe had been openly abused during a game in Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium. The list of fines and abuses continues.

    Today the average wage of a soccer player playing in international competitions or in the top leagues is $80,000 per week. Many soccer stars are making $250,000-$400,000 per week, so UEFA current levies of fines on individuals or clubs is not hurting them financially.

    Either UEFA needs to re-evaluate the fines and penalties, raising them to levels that will really hurt a soccer club and force them to police their fans, or another solution must be found.


    Policing the game

    UEFA is committed to tackling racism and has put a lot of money into programs like FARE and anti-racist education program. In a statement UEFA says, “It considers tackling racism within football (soccer) as a top priority; recognizing that racism and discrimination have their roots in society but are often articulated through our sport.

    “We call upon all referees, match delegates and coaches to monitor the behavior of players and fans closely and to fulfill their obligation to punish and report any form of racism on and around the field of play and take appropriate measures within the scope of their own authority.”

    Speaking to MintPress, a former Metropolitan Police detective says, “In many ways, football (soccer) hooliganism is easier to stamp out than racism on the soccer terraces. Most hooligans will be organized, so it’s a little easier. We can monitor the Internet and gather intelligence from various groups and message boards for likely violent clashes between supporters. In the case of racism, this is more individual action getting support on the soccer terrace rather than large groups organizing for a fight.

    “If football (soccer) is to get rid of racist thugs, you need to encourage fans to report racist fans, you need CCTV on the terraces, and football (soccer) clubs to really enforce life bans. At the moment a fan that has been banned for life for racial abuse can buy a ticket from a tote and get into the game, no problem.”


    Are victims getting justice

    In the 2011-2012 soccer season the English Football Association reported 144 incidents of misconduct in which racism was an aggravating factor. This figure includes incidents at matches played at the lower leagues of the English game, as well as high-profile Premier League matches, like when John Terry and Luis Suarez were given suspensions for racial slurs to opposition players. But most organizations believe that the issue is far deeper and that the figure does not reflect the true scale of the problem.

    The English FA said, “We recognize there is under-reporting of incidents of racism and discrimination in the game. We encourage those who feel they have been discriminated against to report their concerns. We are determined to provide an inclusive football (soccer) experience for anyone who wishes to play or support English football.”

    But this is little comfort for black and Asian players who go to work in an atmosphere of racial hate, monkey chants and racial jibes and jokes. After a decade of work to combat racism in soccer it seem neither Football Associations, Clubs or UEFA are winning this battle fast.  The measures of UEFA fines and penalties are not having an impact on clubs to put their house in order. With no new proposals on the table, the problem looks to be unresolved for some time to come.

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