This weekend saw three separate racist incidents across British football, in another shameful week which started with England players being subject to abhorrent racism at an away match in Bulgaria. All three cases are subject to investigations either by the police or the clubs themselves. The three incidents happened at Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) in Scotland, Bristol City and Yeovil Town, with the latter leading to a walk-off instigated by Yeovil’s opponents – Haringey Borough FC. At the Yeovil game, both sets of players walked off the pitch, with the Yeovil team wanting to show solidarity to the Haringey goalkeeper Valery Douglas Pajetat who was the main recipient of the abuse as well as having a bottle thrown at him.
All the clubs have released their own statements, as have the FA. Bristol Owner Steve Lansdown said he was “shocked and disappointed” and would ensure anyone racially abusing another person would be “banned… from purchasing tickets” to home or away matches. Hearts asserted in a club statement that there would be an “indefinite ban” for any fans guilty of racist abuse. In the Yeovil-Haringey match, both teams walked back onto the pitch following a small period of time “as a show of solidarity” according to the Yeovil Twitter feed. The FA also commented on that particular game with a statement featuring all the usual pronouncements that anyone would expect, including that they’re “deeply concerned” … “there is no room for discrimination in our game” and that they are “working with the match officials and the relevant authorities… to fully establish the facts and take the appropriate steps”.
Quite clearly the abuse that’s been suffered by players, staff and fans alike for too long is reprehensible. The actions of the Haringey team are commendable. But for their bold stance it’s unlikely that anyone would have heard of this story (due to it being two small teams in a very early round of a cup competition). However, this begs the question of how many similar incidents there are every week that go on without anyone knowing, due to other teams feeling unable to take similar action. The threats from Bristol and Hearts alike to ban fans who are found guilty is encouraging, as this is one form of the strong action necessary in modern sports. One blight for Bristol is their persistence that those who perpetrated the abuse aren’t “genuine fans” – something that Lansdown put in his statement. It has to be acknowledged that racist fans are a real part of the community to this day and are a threat to be dealt with, rather than saying that ‘genuine’ fans can’t be racist.
The various incidents follow abuse suffered in Bulgaria by English players at the hands of fans making audible monkey chants as well as Nazi salutes in a stadium already under partial closure for previous racism at their matches. England followed the official protocol and were two of the three steps in the process towards walking off the pitch and having the match abandoned, but ultimately played till conclusion. Recently, AS Roma in Italy sent a scathing message to the Italian FA (which has a poor record within the football world for their handling of racism), saying “are you really serious about tackling racism in Italian football @SerieA” after one of their players was sent horrific racist messages on Twitter. In July, Juventus ultras (organized fans of Juventus FC, in Turin) were found with Nazi regalia and a multitude of weapons – including a ground-to-air missile – whilst Inter Milan Ultras tried to tell their own player, Romelu Lukaku, that the monkey chants he heard in a match at Cagliari were “not racist”.
All of these events are possible not only because of the current political climate and the feeling emanating from the far-right across the UK and Europe, but also because within football specifically, there have so far been barely any consequences for offenders. On a broader scale, ownership of clubs is allowed to be by the likes of Qatar and the UAE (for PSG and Man City respectively) in order to increase their global brand and soft power. Both are countries that practice the Kafala system of ‘employment’. Kafala is modern-day slavery which holds workers of different nations to differing standards of human rights (detailed in James Montague’s ‘The Billionaires Club’). If football’s governing bodies can’t deal with isolated incidents in stadiums, then they’ll never be able to deal with the systemic issues that have permeated the higher echelons of the sport.
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