Racism vs Football

Amongst the various different issues in the news recently such as the Brexit shambles, Extinction Rebellion protests, the royal family ‘rift’ and the tragedy of the recent human trafficking scandal, racism in football has been rearing it’s ugly head time and time again.

I don’t follow the sport and only watch an odd game of Match of the Day here and there if I happen to be in the living room whilst it’s on. I also follow the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations whilst Nigeria is playing – patriotism at its finest! However, in spite of not being a fan as such, the stories are rife and there’s no getting away from the news coverage which reveals a despicable, shameful and eye-opening couple of weeks of football.

Below are some of the recent incidents which have shown that the match against racism is currently in full swing:

  1. On Monday 14th October at the Euro 2020 qualifier match in Sofia between England and Bulgaria, multiple players for England (including Raheem Sterling, Tyrone Mings and Marcus Rashford), received verbal racial abuse and the match had to be stopped twice due to racist actions from the home ‘supporters’ in Sofia.
  2. Last Saturday 19th October at an FA Cup fourth qualifying round match between Haringey Borough Council and Yeovil Town, two of Haringey’s players were racially abused by yobs in the stands. Goalkeeper Valery Douglas Pajetat was spat at, struck by a bottle and subjected to racist abuse, whilst teammate Cobie Rowe was also targeted. This resulted in Haringey’s players walking off the pitch and abandoning the game. The match has since been rescheduled for Tuesday 29th October and two arrests have been made in connection to the incident, however charges are yet to be officially made.
  3. On Sunday 20th October at a match between Manchester United and Liverpool, a ‘fan’ (yob) directed racial abuse at Liverpool player Trent Alexander-Arnold, and as a result has been banned from Old Trafford stadium indefinitely.
  4. On Wednesday 23rd October, Liverpool ‘fans’ brazenly displayed a banner of Liverpool player Divock Origi, naked and with a comically enlarged penis (playing into a common stereotype and the odd obsession many people seem to have towards black men and their genitalia).

Throwing bananas at players seems to have somewhat gone out of fashion (and can be more easily caught which I’m sure the yobs are aware of). Therefore what we’re seeing is increased chanting, which is more difficult to intercept and overt micro-aggressions with banners that are ‘just a joke’ and ‘a bit of harmless fun’. Because what man, wouldn’t want to be known for having a big penis? Divock Origi should have been grateful for the banner! How dare he feel embarrassed and offended? The banner holders were doing him a favour, right? That’s what the social media users below alluded to:

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The typical near enough non-existent consequences and lack of accountability for those that are involved in these incidents is why I believe this keeps happening. As much as I appreciate that identifying exactly those responsible for chanting in a stand full of thousands of supporters will be difficult, in my opinion this has been used in the past as an excuse to effectively do the bare minimum to address the issue and merely claim to want to ‘kick racism out’ of football with delicate PR campaigns, fluffy words, pitiful fines and very little practical action. However the indefinite ban at Old Trafford placed on the perpetrator in example number 3 above is definitely a step in the right direction and the players abandoning the match at Haringey in example number 2 above, is exactly what I think needs to happen more frequently.

Until people want to behave like adults, then they should be treated as children. I personally think that if any chanting occurs, a game should be cancelled and whilst this may seem an extreme measure, if people know that their chanting will stop the game and have an impact on everyone who has paid and also ultimately the league / championship itself, they’ll inevitably have to start thinking more before they chant. If they know that they risk ruining the game for other supporters, the club they support and realise that their behaviour will be clamped down on swiftly and firmly, I doubt we’ll have so many incidents.

I know avid supporters and fans of football will shudder at the idea above, and when my dad was on his way to watch Match of the Day yesterday and asked if I wanted to watch, I jokingly said I was boycotting football, due to the amount of racism. He responded by saying that racism is definitely an issue in football but he wouldn’t stop watching it! Which is understandable, I didn’t stop watching the Apprentice after Lord Sugar’s racist tweet last year, we shouldn’t effectively cut off the nose to spite the face.

Ultimately however, I do think we should make a stand. So to supporters I’m not saying you should stop watching football, but call out the incidents for what they are and stand by our brothers, the talented players just trying to do their jobs, but who are unfortunately on the receiving end of this racist rubbish, which just doesn’t seem to be dying down.

There are outspoken black players such as Raheem Sterling trying to tackle the issue head on. It’s difficult to tackle an issue that stems up time and time again and appears to have been accepted as part and parcel of the game. But there’s strength in numbers, so in terms of practical ways to help, spreading awareness of the issue, supporting the players and not being afraid to speak up will hopefully get this match back to a level playing field.

Lola I

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