Back in the seventies and eighties racism in football was rife but in the following decade the sport seemed to get a grip of the issues.
Now, aided by the wide reaching voice provided by social media platforms, racial abuse is rearing it’s ugly head again and, if nothing is done, the sport we all love runs the risk of failing to be the ‘beautiful game’.
In just the last few weeks, Manchester United pair Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, along with Chelsea’s young England forward Tammy Abraham, have been subjected to online abuse after missing penalties. Abraham’s teammate Kurt Zouma received his own vile abuse – again on social media – after inadvertently turning past his own keeper in his teams recent home match with Sheffield United.
It’s not limited to the top tiers of football though and Reading, who play in the Championship in England, saw their player Yakou Meite receive messages online, again after a missed spot kick. After this weekend’s fixtures the abuse was highlighted further when Inter Milan’s big money summer signing Romelu Lukaku was subjected to monkey chants during a match with Cagliari.
It’s hardly a new thing but the frequency of the reports is becoming an almost weekly occurrence and it has to stop. The trouble is, some people – including fans, players, coaches, social media companies and even the footballing authorities – don’t seem to take it seriously.
Inter Milan, the side Lukaku is hoping to fire to silverware this season, saw their supporters group release a statement labelling the monkey chants as a mark of ‘respect’ not racism. Whilst the fans responsible for that open letter don’t represent the entirety, it does prove there is a mentality on the terraces that these instances are not an issue.
What about those within the game then? Well, just five months ago, Moise Kean – now of Everton – was peppered with abuse at the same ground as Lukaku whilst a Juventus player. What did his manager, Massimiliano Allegri, have to say? That Kean ‘shouldn’t have celebrated in that manner’. Kean’s captain, Leonardo Bonucci was equally questionable with his comments claiming the ‘blame’ for the abuse was ‘50/50’.
The governing body responsible for Serie A condemned the actions but failed to leverage any penalty; then again, that’s the same committee that failed to act when Sulley Muntari walked off the pitch after suffering racial taunts – again at Cagliari. Muntari, a former Ghanaian international, received his second caution for leaving the field of play and was subsequently banned.
This article isn’t aimed solely at Cagliari fans or Italian football though. Most nations have had their fair share of issues; in December 2018 Raheem Sterling complained of being on the end of some offensive insults with Chelsea subsequently issuing a lifetime ban whilst Luis Suarez and John Terry have both caused storms in the English game for their choice of words to opposing players – both were fined and issued with bans by the English FA.
In Spain there have been a couple of well-documented examples; Dani Alves was targeted with a banana missile during a match against Villarreal – who were fined €12,000 – a few years back and more recently Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak questioned Javier Tebas, the La Liga president, on his moral compass.
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That’s just three leagues, albeit three of the biggest leagues in the world, showing examples of significant racism and the problems are widespread across, if not the world, then certainly the whole of Europe. So what is the outcome?
Social media bosses constantly defend their policies despite their seemingly poor attempts to prevent and promptly remove posts of a racial nature. The authorities of the respective competitions do next to nothing so the responsibility will ultimately fall to the players.
Will they come off social media denying true fans of a connection with them? It would stop the ‘keyboard warriors’ to a certain extent and it would certainly get the attention of the relevant media platform. They could walk off the pitch but who wins? It’s not the player or their team, it’s not the true supporters. At best, it’s nobody and at worst it’s a victory for racism.
Clubs need to identify the culprits and ban them. Authorities need to come down hard on clubs who commit offences; a paltry fine to a club is not a deterrent to a racist in the stands. Close stands, dock points. Yes, the true fans would get caught up in that as well but they’d soon point out the poisonous trouble makers for genuine punishment.
The alternative is that the game loses – or stops producing – some of it’s star players. It sounds far fetched. It’s not. Racism isn’t just an issue in football; think about Colin Kaepernick, he effectively sacrificed his career in the NFL for his beliefs and that movement has filtered through the professional leagues, into college football and beyond and the same could easily happen to association football if we’re not careful.
Racism is more to the victim than a few hurtful sounds or words typed on a keyboard and there will come a point where one, two or more of the players have enough – unless a change happens now.
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