Two years ago England played Serbia in an England U21 in which Danny Rose was sent off after becoming increasingly frustrated with blatant racism not only from the Serbian crowd in the form of monkey jeering, but also from Serbian midfielder Nikola Ninkovic. The powers that be at UEFA decided a measly £65000 fine for the Serbian FA and a one year international ban for Ninkovic would suffice.
Two years later and we’re back in Serbia where Tottenham’s otherwise dull match against Partizan Belgrade on Thursday night was tainted by one moment.
A banner, unfurled amongst the home supporters of the Serbian club read ‘Only Jews and Pussies’ styled on the TV show ‘Only Fools and Horses’ logo. The banner remained for the entire duration of the match, without officials of the club, security within the ground or UEFA match officials challenging it.
The banner was made in reference to the historically high proportion of Jewish fans that support Tottenham after the high influx of Jewish immigrants to the East End of London at the turn of the 20th century. The club has since been associated with the controversial ‘Yid army’ tag, with some supporters using it as a battle against racism in the English game. Many, including David Cameron, however, have condemned the phrase.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has taken clear issue with it saying after the match, “it is an unacceptable thing. It is very disrespectful. This is a shame, very disrespectful and unacceptable.” Contrast this with the Partizan manager who praised the crowd and the intimidating atmosphere they created. One can only hope that he didn’t see the banner. Pochettino also made some omissions from his squad including Danny Rose, Emmanuel Adebayor, Younès Kaboul, Mousa Dembélé and Nacer Chadli. Pocchetino argued footballing reasons, but the simple fact is that all were black first team players whose absence severely affected Spurs in a competition they historically take very seriously.
After having the banner pointed out to them by Tottenham officials, UEFA have said that they have taken photos of the incident, and will in due time be investigating it.
But the one question remains—what will they do?
Without sounding like a sceptic, I imagine very, very little.
Continental Europe has a far deeper problem with prejudice than I think UEFA would care to admit. It is not enough to cite cultural differences within Europe being the problem, with European football being such a melting pot of nationalities and beliefs. It is not enough to cite ignorance like was so often the excuse during the 1970s and 80s in English football.
Contrast European football with the modern English game, which is by no means perfect. However, the FA are trying implementing the Respect campaign which has eradicated a generation of racists, homophobes and fascists that burdened the English game from the Stadium of Light to Brighton Town and back up via Elland Road again. Indeed, the only outstanding troubles that can be found within the British game are the religious disunity found within the Old Firm clashes.
Even the eye-wateringly inappropriately named ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ campaign launched by Stonewall and Paddy Power, fronted by the controversial ‘Rainbow Lace’ campaign, has good intentions, even though I personally don’t see it as a particularly effective way to combat homophobia within the English game.
Prejudice is a cancer within society, and certainly has no place on the field of play in any sport.
In the past 18 months we have had several instances of racism in the European game. The first was Kevin Price-Boateng walking off the pitch after consistent abuse during a Serie A match, the rest of his team followed him which lead to an unprecedented abandoning of the match. A year later we had Danny Alves having a banana chucked at him whilst playing at Villarreal. Alves reacted by grabbing the banana, eating it, then taking a corner which resulted in a goal. Alves himself set up two goals and scored one, crediting the banana for giving him the energy to do so. The action prompted an international storm with players taking pictures eating bananas with the caption: ‘I am not a monkey’. Despite the twitter campaign Villarreal were simply fined 12000 Euros, prompting Alves described the attitude towards racism in Spain as “very backwards.” A week later in the same league Levante’s Senegal midfielder Papakouly Diop complained of racist abuse by visiting Atlético Madrid supporters.
UEFA and FIFA can make examples out of easy situations. Match fixing? Simple, relegation and life-time bans. Administration? Points deduction. Criticising referees? Touchline ban. But the decisions you earn your money on are issues of equality and sportsmanship. So far UEFA and FIFA have failed to offer comprehensive answers on third party ownership, slavery allegations and social problems surrounding the Qatar World Cup, or racism.
FIFA were quick to jump on Suarez after biting because it made them look very foolish on the world stage, in a World Cup that was already shrouded in controversy. But issues such as racism in football, although receiving a lot of media coverage initially, seem to simmer after UEFA launch pointless investigations that come to pointless results.
There is a difference between feisty atmospheres that one would find at Bekistas in Turkey, than racism. There is a difference between someone shouting “you useless c***” at a player and homophobia. It is a line which is very clear, and a line most reasonable people can distinguish.
So as FIFA hide away in their Swiss base, like the most inane supervillains you can imagine, only crawling out the woodwork to hand out trophies or take bribes. Let’s just hope that they for once take some sort of action and ensure that teams like Partizan Belgrade are not allowed to play in Europe for a long, long time.