For many years, the English Football Association, FIFA, UEFA and other counterpart footballing authorities have fought what seemed to have been a successful campaign in the eradication of the blight of racism upon football. In recent weeks however, racism has filled the front and back pages with the scandals surrounding Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and England Captain John Terry, both of whom are alleged to have racially abused fellow professionals Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand.
On-going investigations and an FA charge for Suarez however have been largely overshadowed by the comments made by the head of the world game, Sepp Blatter, who claimed players who are racially abused should merely ‘shake hands’ after the game and move on. Public outcry against Blatter has placed pressure on him to resign, however the problem of racism and general bigotry in football remains immune from proper sanctions and ramifications.
FC Barcelona for instance were recently fined £87,000 by governing body UEFA for their fans celebrating with flares, whilst the Bulgarian FA this week were handed the paltry fine of £34,000 for racist chanting from their fans in the recent clash against England. Unfortunately, both FIFA and UEFA in particular have a poor track record with regards to taking a soft stance on racism, with several high profile figures such as former Spain manager Luis Aragones – who famously referred to Thierry Henry as a ‘black s***’ – escaping with miniscule punishment’s for the derogatory comments.
Football’s soft approach to racism has had dire consequences, mainly in that players are now unwilling to come forward with allegations in fear of being branded a ‘cry baby’ as suggested by Gus Poyet recently. Fear of recrimination and being the person who ‘plays the race card’ has held back many players victimized by racism back in the past, and will continue to do so – making the cases against Terry and Suarez even more unique and intriguing.
Both Evra and Ferdinand have become targets for scorn by opposition fans in the wake of their allegations, further compounding the grim reality that racism is still seen by many as a trivial issue. Eyes are now firmly on the FA, who recently banned several Leeds United fans for 3 years following racist abuse at a game, and whether their ‘Kick Racism Out’ campaign is as serious as the rhetoric suggest.
Presumably, if found guilty, both players could and perhaps should face similar punishment, however more likely a hefty fine and match suspension will be handed down, given the complexities of proving such an allegation took place.
Ultimately, racism in football remains a topic where there is seen to be positive steps taken against prevention, yet the authorities still remain reluctant to appropriately clamp down upon guilty parties. Whilst it is obvious that to actually prove a racist allegation without clear sound and video footage is difficult, it remains imperative that abused players speak up and highlight the casual racism that still exists amongst fellow professionals.
As football fans, we can only hope that with racism firmly on the agenda, other players who have perhaps been guilty of transgressing in the past and got away with it will now think twice in the future.