Racism: The Underlying Stains of “The Beautiful Game”

Racism. It’s been an issue throughout human history, but we are in 2019 and it continues to plague our world. From the workplace, to schools, and what feels like everywhere else, racism can be found. It’s even in sports such as the “beautiful game” of football.

Incidents of racism in football around the globe are rampant. From Russia, to Bolivia, and many countries in between, the issue of racism continues to strike.

Montenegro fans racially abuse English players

In a Euro 2020 qualifier, England traveled to Montenegro where they won 5-1. However, the headlines following the match were not about the game itself. Instead, it covered the racism black English players suffered.

Monkey chants were directed towards the players from home fans, marring the match with a clear reminder of the continued presence of racism in football and society.

The match was 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi’s debut for the senior national team. Rather than being able to focus on happy memories of contributing to the victory with an assist, he will always associate his first England match with those disgusting chants.

“I don’t think discrimination should be anywhere,” Hudson-Odoi told BeIn Sports according to the Independent. “As I said, we’re equal, we have to play a fair game and enjoy the moment but when you’re hearing stuff like that from the fans it’s not right, it’s unacceptable and hopefully Uefa deal with it properly because when I went over there and heard it, they were saying monkey stuff.”

England are victims, as well as perpetrators, of racism

Although here England are pictured as the victims, they themselves are guilty of racism.

Raheem Sterling, who came out to condemn the racism he and others endured in Montenegro, has been a target from the English media. Publications such as the Daily Mail and the Sun have spread story after story attacking the Manchester City winger.

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Raheem Sterling representing England during the 2018 World Cup

Whether it was about how he “showed off his riches” by buying his mother a house, his tattoo of a gun that made him out to be supporter of violence (which he isn’t and they would have known if they actually did some real reporting and made sure to provide balance by asking Sterling about the tattoo, rather than jumping to a conclusion), or some other ridiculous angle written to paint Sterling as some despicable human being.

Yet, racism in England affects more footballers than just Sterling.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was subject to this during last December’s North London derby. A Tottenham Hotspur supporter threw a banana towards the Gabon international.

Chelsea fans racially abused Liverpool star Mohamed Salah earlier this month. A video showed three fans chanting “Salah is a bomber” in a bar.

Racism from more than just some fans

Moving away from England, racism again made headlines in Italy during a match between Cagliari and Juventus. La Vecchia Signora won 2-0, with 19-year-old Moise Kean scoring the final goal.

Upon scoring the goal, Kean was subsequently attacked verbally with racial slurs. He raised his arms while facing the home fans in response, further provoking them.

In the aftermath of the match, lots of the attention was on the response of Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci. Comments he made in response to questions about what happened to Kean revealed the extent of the problem.

The Italian center back shared how he felt both the fans and Kean should share the blame for what happened.

“Kean knows that when he scores a goal, he has to focus on celebrating with his team-mates,” Bonucci told Sky Sport Italia according to Goal. “He knows he could’ve done something differently too.

“There were racist jeers after the goal, Blaise [Matuidi] heard it and was angered. I think the blame is 50-50, because Moise shouldn’t have done that and the Curva should not have reacted that way.

“We are professionals, we have to set the example and not provoke anyone.”

Forgetting about the fact Bonucci is a leader of the club and prominent football player, it is insensible as to how he could come to such a conclusion.

His comments received numerous responses from the media as well as from other current and retired footballers.

“For me it’s a disgrace. You can’t do that,” Yaya Toure told ESPN before adding, “It was unbelievable. A teammate, a manager saying: ‘You shouldn’t have done that’ to one of your own players.”

“I think it’s the worst scenario you can have in football. Your teammate attacking you, saying things like that, is just unbelievable. I can’t imagine how hurt he was when he saw that.”

“Bonucci is lucky that I wasn’t there,” Mario Balotelli wrote on Instagram in response to a post by Kean according to the same ESPN report. “Instead of defending you he does this? I am shocked.”

To make matters worse, Cagliari president, Tommaso Giulini, denied the occurrence of racial abuse from the club’s fans.

“I heard mostly boos, if they started making animal noises then we were in the wrong,” he said according to Reuters. “What happened at the end was because of a celebration which was wrong and it would have happened with any other player.”

The idea some people dare to reject the presence of racism, especially when there is clear evidence of it, is just beyond ignorant and disrespectful. Then to go as far as to say “…it would have happened with any other player” goes to show how much work needs to be done in the fight against racism.

From Europe to South America, racism isn’t isolated

The list of these sorts of racism sadly goes on and on. In Russia for example, Spartak Moscow fans called goalkeeper Guilhelme “a monkey” during a match. In Bolivia, Blooming fans called an opposition player a monkey and a gorilla. In response, the player left the field of play.

By no means is racism just an issue in England or Italy. This is a global issue the sport and society continues to be blighted by.

Time for change

The governing bodies of football need to address these incidents and change the way they are handled moving forward. Stadium bans and fines for clubs have clearly not done enough to deter racist behavior from fans.

Football associations have their own rules, regulations, and stipulations when it comes to when something becomes punishable and the extent of the sanction. There must be consistency and a better way of handling these sensitive cases as recent examples have shown, not enough is being done.

ITV provided an interesting look at some incidents UEFA looked into in the past.

“It’s now time for the people that are in charge to put a real stamp on it because you can fine someone but what’s that going to do,” Sterling told Sky Sports.

“You’ve got to make it harder – you’ve got to punish all the fans so they can’t come to the games, you’ve got to do something that’s really going to make them think twice. Because if their team can’t play with fans it’s going to be difficult for them and make them think twice about it.

“I can only, we can only, the FA can only do so much. We’ve got to leave this to the people in charge to make a proper stance on it. Just banning one or two people is not going to change anything, even to our fans I’d say the exact same thing.”

Whether that’s stronger punishments like playing behind closed doors or something else, there must be change. Football can no longer be reactive. Instead, rules and regulations must be created that prevent more of this kind of behavior before it happens. In other words, they must become proactive and have something in place to stop racism before it happens.

However, it must be kept in mind that these incidents are not the whole narrative. As shown in a detailed view of racism throughout the English football pyramid, Jacob Steinberg’s piece for the Guardian highlights the extent of this social issue. If racial abuse stops in stadiums, that doesn’t mean all of a sudden people no longer hold racist views. Likewise, the problem is not limited to the top level of football. Rather it extends to all tiers and age groups.

Racism is unacceptable. No one should be subjected to the vile effects it can produce, especially such young human beings like Hudson-Odoi and Kean who are just beginning their professional careers.

“I’ve had enough,” said Danny Rose according to AS.

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Danny Rose (right) representing England during the World Cup

“How I program myself is that I think I’ve got five or six more years left in football, and I just can’t wait to see the back of it.”

“Seeing how things are done in the game at the minute, you just have to get on with it. There is so much politics in football. I can’t wait to see the back of it.”

When footballers who loved the game stop enjoying themselves and no longer dread the idea of retirement, a problem is clear for all to see. Racism is rubbing dirt into the sport many around the world have come to call “the beautiful game.”

The mentality of a society must be corrected before a complete change can be seen in England, Europe, and the whole world.

If football is truly “the beautiful game”, there can be no place for racism.


Photo credits in order of appearance:

By James Boyes from UK – Lewes 0 Chelsea DS 1 Pre Season 22 07 2017-599.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61315525

By Кирилл Венедиктов – https://www.soccer.ru/galery/1058073/photo/736782, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70879898

By Кирилл Венедиктов – https://www.soccer.ru/galery/1055768/photo/734124, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70550882

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