Racism in football: The ugly side of the ‘Beautiful Game’

It’s 2019. We like to think that we are progressing as a society but with what happened in Bulgaria during the European Championship qualifiers, I’d say you’re just as delusional as the Bulgarian manager if you think that it’s actually true…

Racism being reported in the media seems to have become an often occurrence. Raheem Sterling was targeted by fans and the media alike with chants and racial undertones within articles, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, had a banana skin thrown at him during the North London Derby, Mohamed Salah was subject to a video of fans calling him a “bomber” and Moise Kean was racially abused and then condemned for his celebration by former manager Massimiliano Allegri, former team-mate Leonardo Bonucci. All of these incidents happened during the last campaign. These are only a handful of examples in a season full of racial hatred, and this season seems to have picked up where the last had left off.

We are only in October and we have already heard about players such as: Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Hamza Choudhury, Tammy Abraham and Romelu Lukaku receiving racist abuse in their respective leagues, and that was all before England took on Bulgaria in European Championship qualifiers.

The game was halted twice in the first half due to monkey chants, Nazi salutes and hatred aimed at England’s black players, with FA Chairman Greg Clarke describing it as ‘one of the most appalling nights I’ve seen in football’. The volume of the hatred was sickening and the sheer amount of spectators that participated just beggars belief.

But what is being done about this growing concern?

UEFA has implemented a three-step protocol in the event of abuse. The first step is to make stadium announcements at the referee’s request to demand that the discrimination stop, with the threat of the match being abandoned if the issue persists. As, in the case of the England game, the abuse carried on through the first step, the protocol was taken further with the match being temporarily suspended. This part of the protocol was activated twice as players had to endure the abuse from the hostile crowd, yet the full 90 minutes was eventually played out and the third and final part of the protocol, to abandon the match, was not triggered.

Deservedly, the Three Lions ran out 6-0 winners in a game that not only tested their footballing ability, but their resolve.

England players took to social media post game and shared their thoughts on what was a difficult night:

The question is, how much of this disgusting behaviour do players have to take before it’s deemed worthy of abandoning the game? They are people too, and no one should have to be put through such treatment. Despite members of the England squad stating that the protocols did make a difference, players were still subject to repeated racial abuse as the decision was made to not trigger the third and final stage. Does it mean that it is acceptable to racially abuse players so long as you don’t overstep the protocol? That is something UEFA might have to consider.

A zero-tolerance approach could prove how seriously the football governing body is taking the matter and potentially eradicate the problem faster, but it too would have its major flaws. What would that mean for football? Would it mean the racists win if they control when games are played and when they aren’t? What would it mean for the players who train and work towards matches only for them to be halted by single-minded, so-called fans of the game?

The uncertainty proves how much a delicate situation we find ourselves in but crucial decisions have to be made as the behaviour of the ‘fans’ is taking centre stage more and more.

Look at Tyrone Mings as an example. That game represented the Aston Villa centre-back’s debut for his country in what is most likely the greatest achievement of his career. That dream will forever be tainted by racist bigots in the stands. The fact that one of the journalists’ first questions after the game was not about his debut, but about the racism, is testament to the extent in which his big moment was overshadowed. England won comfortably in what was a great display on the field, but that isn’t what we’re all talking about. That’s not what this article is about.

One thing that has not been mentioned but plays arguably the biggest role in the rise of this behaviour is social media. The ease in which the world can be known of your thoughts, in which anonymity can be achieved and the ease of hurling abuse while cowering behind your screen rather than having to do it in person has been emphasised with the introduction of these platforms. If you look at the Premier League, the majority of racism reported in the media originates from online platforms rather than the stands in a stadium. People now don’t have to be at a game in person to be heard, meaning that a greater number of people can voice their opinions. It is the negative, dehumanising comments however that make the biggest imapct.

Like the football governing bodies, social media sites must really clamp down on this seemingly growing issue. Twitter have been in the spotlight as they promise to clamp down on racial abuse and strengthen its “hateful conduct policy” but that being said, I have seen posts be taken down quicker for copyright infringements than racial abuse. Obviously, it is a difficult issue to solve but one that has to be taken seriously sooner rather than later. Discriminatory posts reported to the organisation ‘Kick it Out’ have risen to record levels and that trajectory shows no signs of slowing.

The debate about racism and the ways in which it can be stopped will rage on as it continues to seep into every area of the sport, from grassroots, to full international fixtures, from the terraces, to the computer screens. One thing is for sure, there should be no room for it ever.

This ugly side of the beautiful game is one that shows a real lack of human decency and awareness and in a society that prides itself in innovation, football is heading in the opposite direction. The quicker this disease is dealt with and eradicated, the quicker we can get back to talking about football. The quicker we can get back to enjoying the game we love.

By Cristi Bratu

Photo credit: Mattythewhite via Wikipedia

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