Comment | Racism in football: a silence that says it all
Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Friday, June 8, 2012 20:23 - 1 Comment
John Terry and Rio Ferdinand
At the end of a footballing season that has seen two major allegations of racial abuse on the pitch, Britain finds itself entering the Euro 2012 competition still embroiled in racial controversy. Again, there are two issues to be raised here; the first being the racist nature of some of the supporters in the host nations of Poland and Ukraine.
In an open Netherlands training session in Krakow on Wednesday, players were subjected to monkey noises from fans. Uefa have claimed that the chanting was not racist, but was in protest to no games being held in Krakow, and so are not going to be taking any action over the incident.
Mark Van Bommel, the captain of the Holland squad has spoken openly about his black team mates being targeted and in regarding Uefa’s response said: “Open your ears. If you did hear it and don’t want to hear it, that is even worse.”
The Bulgarian Football Union were fined £34,000 after Black England players were racially abused during one of the qualifying rounds. According to the BBC, however, Manchester City received a bigger fine for returning to the pitch late than what Porto were fined when Mario Balotelli was racially abused by their fans. A recent BBC Panorama documentary exposed Nazi salutes and monkey noises made at black players from hardcore groups of supporters known as Ultras.
What is most shocking is that officials did nothing about it, and adamantly denied that any racist behaviour goes on in the terraces. This is worrying for any Black fans who may be following England to their games, and with the families of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain publicly stating that they will not be travelling to the tournament, there seems to be reason to fear that racial abuse will occur.
So the question needs to be raised: should a country that clearly has an issue with this form of racism be allowed to host a major sporting event? It will be interesting to see how UEFA handles any incidents that might occur – they maintain that they have a zero-tolerance stance on racism and have reminded referees that they have the power to call off a game should any racism occur.
The headline-grabbing Mario Balotelli has recently been quoted as saying that he would ‘kill anyone who threw a banana’ at him during the competition, and that he will walk off the pitch if racially abused. He has also registered both his original Ghanaian name Barwuah, and his adopted name Balotelli as the names he will wear on his shirt, a deliberate and bold statement.
Though young and known for his outspokenness and sometimes volatile behaviour, it is disconcerting that Balotelli is one of the few players who seem to have the strength of character to speak publicly about the issue.
The second concern for the Euro 2012 tournament comes from closer to home. In many professional jobs, one could expect to be suspended from work while awaiting a court trial for allegations of racial abuse. However, normal standards don’t tend to apply when it comes to professional footballers, so John Terry’s court case was adjourned until after the Euros, so as to allow him to play.
Fans display a Nazi flag during a league game in Ukraine, co-host of Euro 2012 this summer
With defender Gary Cahill suffering a fractured jaw during last weekend’s friendly with Belgium, new manager Roy Hodgson was required to draft in a replacement – he chose Liverpool’s Martin Kelly, a player who has only been capped once for his country, over Rio Ferdinand, a former England captain with 81 games under his belt.
Of course, Ferdinand might not have had the greatest of seasons by his standards, but he was still seconds away from winning the title and played more league games than Kelly. Indeed, many believe his experience and track record make him precisely the sort of player the team needs.
What is disappointing, however, is Hodgson’s refusal to admit that his decision is clearly motivated by political reasons, rather than footballing ones. John Terry is accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, Rio’s younger brother, and Hodgson has simply sided with Terry over Ferdinand, supposedly due to “team dynamics”.
This is clearly a bad decision, one made by the same man, let us not forget, who chose to play for South African side Berea Park F.C during the sporting boycott of the country during the apartheid – another decision apparently made for ‘footballing’ reasons.
Rio Ferdinand’s willingness to speak out about his disappointment at Hodgson’s decision is commendable; less impressive, however, is his rather odd decision not to publicly reveal the reasons for said disappointment.
Ex-Liverpool player Robbie Fowler has recently joined the debate in saying that there was “not a chance Ferdinand was left out for footballing reasons”, along with Netherlands forward Rafael Van Der Vaart, who called Ferdinand “one of the best defenders in England, maybe the world”.
In such a context, it appears that Poland is not alone in its problems with racism in football. Like their Polish counterparts, English football’s higher echelons have opted to not see what is in front of their eyes. Whenever confronted with racism, whether on the pitch or off it, all we seem to hear is that familiar, complicit silence.