I was a little unsure about writing this month’s column on racism – I’m so white that I get sunburn under a lamp. But I realised that if I didn’t mention it, I would be doing the same as football’s governing body, FIFA, and brushing it under the carpet. FIFA has been accused of not properly tackling racism and ignoring concerns over next year’s World Cup in Russia, where there is a strong far-right presence among the support. The officials aren’t much better. After former Anzhi Makhachkala player Roberto Carlos had bananas thrown at him from the stands a few years ago, the official in charge of fan behaviour responded: “Bananas are a nutritious fruit and a yellow fruit, which always makes you happy.”
And it’s not just Russia – The Croatian Football Federation was fined during last year’s Euros for racist behaviour and crowd trouble at a match against the Czech Republic. The England women’s national team has been rocked with allegations of racial discrimination against former boss Mark Sampson, who reportedly asked mixed-race player Drew Spence how many times she had been arrested, among other offensive comments. Italian top flight teams are also dealing with a spate of anti-Semitic chants, which they attempted to tackle in part with pre-match tributes to Anne Frank and moments of silence. These were drowned out by chants about the Holocaust.
So what are the footballing authorities doing about this epidemic? FIFA did have an anti-racism task force from 2014 up until last year, when it was disbanded as it had “completely fulfilled its temporary mission”. The recommendations it made are supposedly sufficient to deal with the lingering problem of racism in the game. The task force was headed by Jeffrey Webb, one of FIFA’s vice-presidents, until he was arrested on and pled guilty to racketeering charges. He was replaced in 2015 by Congolese federation president Constant Omari, under whose leadership the group met exactly never. If fans were hoping that FIFA could solve the problem, think again.
Closer to home, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) point to examples such as “Show Racism the Red Card”- an educational campaign involving high profile players – as evidence that they take the problem seriously. Their appointment of Malky Mackay as the national team’s interim manager for a recent friendly belies that claim. Mackay was the subject of a massive controversy in 2014 after texts were revealed in which he spouted racist, sexist and homophobic language. About South Korean midfielder Kim Bo-Kyung he said: “Fkn chinkys. Fk it. There’s enough dogs in Cardiff for us all to go around.” Another text between him and his head of recruitment Ian Moody read: “Go on, fat Phil. Nothing like a Jew that sees money slipping through his fingers”. The English FA decided not to take disciplinary action.
This isn’t an isolated event either. Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths received a slap on the wrist several years ago for singing xenophobic chants about Hearts player Rudi Skacel. Griffiths’ teammate Scott Sinclair was racially abused last season by several Rangers fans, prompting a finger pointing game between the two sets of fans. I could go on listing instances of racial abuse but this almost always ends up in a squabble about which club is worse. Instead of cheap point scoring, every set of fans in Scotland needs to take a long hard look at themselves and root out the racists among them.
This affects many more than just the players themselves. As a kid playing football, Liverpool supporter Farshed was called a “black bastard” and a “monkey in goals”. One boy “made an Indian head movement … he was so shite at the head shake, as if he had no control over his neck muscles.”
By its very nature, the footballing world is a critical place to root out racism. It’s high profile, influences millions and features people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. “Young people now have a black athlete or idol they can look up to.” Farshed explains. “I think this ensures that young people can look past the colour and appreciate people for their talents and skills.”
My parents remember going to games in the 90s where fans brought bunches of bananas to throw on the park. We’ve come a way since then, but not nearly as far as the footballing authorities would have us believe. Football has a problem with racism that isn’t going to go away by us collectively patting ourselves on the backs for a job “fulfilled”. Plus, football’s governing bodies seem content to stick a plaster on the wound and call it healed. So as fans, we’ve got to take the responsibility to change things ourselves. That means calling out racism wherever it is, whether it’s players or coaching staff, fellow fans or that guy down the pub shouting abuse at the TV. Love football, hate racism.
[Louise Wylie – @womanpendulum]