As I sit here today and contemplate a few things. The one subject continually crosses my mind is this. Why is racism still prevalent in football in 2014? Sure, you’re always going to have your ignorant fans who would rather abuse a player for the colour of their skin than to actually judge them on their ability to play the game. But what is being done about the violence taking place? Who stands up to those who would rather name call and throw things at the players? What has prompted such outbursts to occur so frequently in the last few years?
In 2004 a survey was conducted estimating about 20% of players in the English league to be black. Certainly this number has increased. There is a certain amount of globalization pervading the English leagues. Globalization has created a sense of homogenized culture in football, where players from different ethnic backgrounds have congregated in one particular team. None so more dramatically than Manchester United. Manchester United were crowned FIFA Club World Cup Champions in 2008 which exemplified the importance of ethnic diversity in a team. Only three of the players in their championship game were of English background. Does this have some psychological impact upon the fans and their perspective?
The most current statistical report on Football-Related Arrests & Banning Orders comes from the 2010-2011 season. It can be found here for more information:
As stated in the report, there was a total attendance in excess of 37 million at regulated football matches. The total number of arrests represents less than 0.01% of all spectators or 1 arrest for every 12,249 spectators. A seemingly small statistic in comparison, what should be noted is while only one arrest was made, how many individuals were actually involved? What were the related offences and how often were they repeat offenders?
· During the 2010-11 season, there were 43 arrests for racist chanting at football matches in England and Wales, the highest total since 2005-6.
· In the 2009-10 season, there were 31 arrests, down from 36 in the 2008/09 season, but a rise from the 2007-8 season's tally of 23, which was the lowest on record.
· In the 2006-07 season, there were 41 arrests for racist chanting, and in 2005-06 there were 55 arrests.
· In the 2004-05 season, 51 people were arrested for racist chanting, down from 63 in the 2003-04 season, 74 in 2002-03, 46 in 2001-02 and 82 in 2000-2001.
Statistically the problem only seems to worsen. There is a serious problem of fan racism in European football you don't see in American sports. The historical context is what makes it so different. European football was beginning to see an influx of changes on the pitch, collide with changes in the wider world. It was during the 1980's, the European Union overturned the rules capping the number of non-European players a team could field. Simultaneously, European countries were beginning to loosen up regulations on privately owned television networks, resulting in an inflow of cash to the sport. Players from all over the world began heading to Europe to play.
Now when you watch the English Premier League, you're not expecting to see all British players. It has become an assumption you're going to see some of the best players from around the world suiting up in your team’s favorite kit. And that's part of what's fuelling incidents like this. Part of this is about anxieties around immigration from non-European countries. The other part is about the hooliganism allowed to take place at many of the matches. Even though there are sanctions that can be levelled against players and managers for racist behaviour, the fans are a much tougher problem altogether. Some clubs have banned fans or fan groups, but even that hasn't put a consistent dent in the incidents. Police are still afraid or unwilling to go into the worst sections of the stadiums to make arrests.
In many European countries, football stadiums have become theatres of hatred; platforms from which neo-Nazis and racists can peddle their ideology. Some of the fans are notorious. You can hear them boo or grunt when the other team's black players touch the ball. They throw bananas at the black players and mimic the movements of monkeys. At one match, fans waved a banner that said their opponent's Jewish fans belonged in Auschwitz. As these racist and anti-Semitic chants become tolerated at football grounds, it becomes more tolerated in the rest of society to say racist and anti-Semitic things.
Perhaps it’s time to take a deeper look at the clubs themselves and begin policing the fans in a different manner. Remember the French National player Lilian Thurman? Remember what he did in protest of the racial slurs and chants he endured? He spoke out and became an outspoken activist against racism. I can see what could be done to begin an even tougher sanction against such ignorance. If players across the country began standing up and walking out on matches you’d start to see the wallets of many clubs taking a hit. You start hurting the wallets of the clubs who are making money off the continued racism, and then they're going to find a way to not let the fans into the stadiums with bananas.
I’m sure Kevin-Prince Boateng, Dani Alves and Papakouli Diop to name a couple of talented players would be happy to see the entire community standing up against those in the minority. Combating racism in football has been a focal point for FIFA in recent years, and it has made progress in some places. Has enough been done to combat it? And can it be exorcised completely?