Hanging from a motorway bridge in Madrid, an effigy of one of the world’s most famous black football players stands as a graphic reminder of the racism sweeping European football. In truth, they are everywhere.
In Italy, where monkey songs resounded Juventus Stadium in April while theBelgian-Congolese attacker Romelu Lukaku scored a goal. In England, where the Gabonese Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang recently received a banana peel thrown by a hostile crowd during the North London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal. In Francewhere the black national team players were the target of horrific racial abuse online after losing in the World Cup final in December.
The phenomenon also exists outside Europe. In Australia, monkey noises and fascist chants were heard during the Cup final last year. In South Americawhere the same cries of monkeys were uttered during meetings of the biggest competition on the continent, the Libertadores Cup. In North Africaor some black players from sub-Saharan African teams complained of being the target of racist chanting from Arab fans during the CAN in Algeria.
Manifestation of a deeper societal problem, racism is a decades-old problem in football – mainly in Europe but observed around the world – which has been amplified by the reach of social media and a growing willingness of people to speak out against it. And to think that only 11 years ago, Sepp Blatterthen president of football’s governing body FIFA, denied there was any racism in the game, saying any abuse should be resolved with a handshake.
The Vinicius Junior case
The black player currently subjected to the most vicious, relentless and high-profile racial slurs is Vinicius Junior, a 22-year-old Brazilian who plays for Real Madridthe most successful football team in Europe.
Last January, a rope was tied around the neck of an effigy of Vinicius. The figure was then hung from an overpass near Madrid’s training ground in the Spanish capital. Two weeks ago, Vinicius left the lawn of Valencia in tears after being once again called a monkey.
“I have a purpose in life,” he said on Twitter. “If I have to continue to suffer so that future generations do not have to go through these types of situations, I am ready and prepared. »
Spanish football authorities do little to stop the abuse, which makes racism an integral part of the sport. Indeed, federations around the world have been too slow – in some cases apparently reluctant – to acquire the power to sanction teams for the racist behavior of their supporters, despite having been authorized by FIFA to do so. since 2013.
Almonds? Of course. Partial stadium closures? All right. But tougher penalties, like point deductions or expulsion from competitions? This seems reserved for issues such as financial mismanagement, not racial abuse of players.
It results from frustration and a sense of helplessness among black players and those who want to protect them. Asked what he expects to happen after the Vinicius incident, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said: “Convicting is not enough. No one has done anything in a way that will make this problem go away. »
When racism was rampant in English football and hooliganism was on the rise, black players were just beginning to integrate into some of the League’s biggest teams.
Liverpoolarguably the most famous football club in the world at the time, fielded its first black player only in 1980. Chelsea followed two years later by bringing Paul Canoville.
The Chelsea player was regularly called ” the N-word“, he was often told to “go home” and was thrown bananas at him.
There was no safety net for Canoville or other racially abused black players – an issue epitomized by a heartbreaking photo of the great John Barnes de Liverpool kicking a banana off the field with his heel in 1988.
“Five thousand people behind the goal are singing ‘Black this, Black that’. It is difficult to play in these conditions”, explains Mark Bright. Born to a Gambian father and an English mother, he played for several English clubs in the 1980s and 1990s. he adds.
“The TV channels failed us, the radio failed us, the Professional Footballers’ Union failed us,” said Bright, now 60.
Anti-racism campaigns and slogans are welcome, but increasingly seen as symbolic, such as ridiculous fines imposed on clubs or federations for racial abuse by fans.
As in 2012, when UEFA fined the Spanish federation €20,000 for racist chants by its Spanish supporters during the European Championship, while the international body, at around the same time, chose to fining a Danish player five times as much for revealing underpants stamped with a bookmaker’s name.
Experts believe the global outrage, widespread backlash and outpouring of support for Vinicius following his latest abuse could mark a turning point in Spain’s fight against racism. It certainly struck a chord in Brazil, where protests took place outside the Spanish consulate in Sao Paulo., while the Spanish league is now looking to harden its positioning. Its protocol so far has been to detect and report incidents and forward the evidence to the courts, where cases are usually dismissed.
Denounce and fight
Jack van SterkenburgProfessor of Race, Inclusion and Communication, especially in relation to football and the media at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, believes that explicit racism in stadiums is more accepted and normalized in parts of Spanish and southern European football culture compared to countries like England and the Netherlands, where the media, former players and football associations have openly addressed the issue.
“When, as a football association, you don’t take a strong stance against this and repeat this message over and over again, it will reappear,” says Van Sterkenburg. “_You must repeat the message that this is neither allowed nor accepted._When nothing happens, you must always repeat this message. Some clubs have programs in place where they repeat this message, even when nothing is happening. This sets the standard, continuous n. »
Football needs outside help against racism and gets it through anti-discrimination campaigners such as Kick It Out in Britain and LICRA in France. The Fare Network, a pan-European group set up to tackle discrimination in football, places undercover observers in the crowds at Europe’s biggest matches to detect racist chants and extremist symbols on banners.
“This is a historic moment that could transform the way discriminatory behavior in football is dealt with.” Our response to the @FA decision introducing point deductions in football for repeated incidents of serious misconduct.
As for the black players themselves, some – like vinicius and others like Samuel Eto’o, Mario Balotelli et Romelu Lukaku – speak out against abuse when they see it, determined to lead the fight against racism. That’s what Paul Canoville, the target of racist insults as English club Chelsea’s first black player in the 1980s, would have liked to do.
“They should say something right away,” he says of black players. “I didn’t do it in my time and I had to learn from that. It’s something I teach young players today. »
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