Are stadium bans or monetary fines the solution to a widely rampant social problem.
As Romelu Lukaku stood with a passive stare at the Curva Nord in Cagliari after putting away a decisive penalty for Inter, it was indeed a harsh awakening moment for one of the continent’s most prominent strikers in one of Europe’s footballing giants.
The monkey chants from the Curva Nord aimed at black players is one among many such incidents that have plagued matches being played at the Sardegna Arena. Moise Kean, Blaise Matuidi, Alex Sandro, Samuel Eto’o and Sulley Muntari have all faced racial abuse in various forms. Add to this, the response from a select group of Inter ultras claiming that the chants were a form of respect or an attempt to throw the opposition player off their game and that Italy was not a racist nation like many others reeks of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy, just to be clear, is not restricted to this group of Ultras alone. It applies to Inter and Cagliari as footballing institutions, the Italian FA, UEFA, FIFA and the whole of Europe (including the UK) as a continent. All of them have failed to address this rampant problem plaguing football games where friends and families are meant to feel the passion of their teams playing the beautiful game. Instead we are yet again seeing a case where a problem that was supposed to have been washed down the drain years ago surface yet again.
Let’s start with the bottom of this chain. Both Cagliari and Inter did not issue any statements condemning the incident nor the fans in question. Instead, both have chosen to take an eerily silent stand on the issue despite Lukaku making a passionate statement of his own and rightfully so. A statement from either of these clubs would have gone a long way in taking a stand against this fundamental problem. A vow to take tougher stances on racist chanting on the grounds, education to younger fans is just one of the many steps these clubs can take to become responsible footballing institutions.
It is especially strange to see Inter’s silence given that they condemned the behaviour of Inter ultras in the defeat of Napoli at the San Siro when they directed monkey chants at Kalidou Koulibaly, one of the league and arguably among the world’s best defenders. The club were given a stadium ban and it hit them where it hurts most, the club coffers.
And Italy isn’t alone in the list of countries where racist, homophobic and anti-semitic chants are the norm in stadiums. England, France, Serbia, Russia are jointly to blame in their failures to dealing with these select set of fans who believe that freedom of speech can be extended to racist abuse of players.
Very few clubs and grounds have taken steps beyond closing off stands and lip service on social media. Steps such as supporters calling out racist abuse from other supporters by sharing their descriptions so that stewards can evict them are rarely in enforcement. The notion that the club should not be punished for the behaviour of a certain section of fans is laughable. Fighting racism should be stem from moral grounds rather than financial. But if its the way to ensure a safe mental and physical environment for players to play, then so be it.
Football clubs are seen as more than just sporting institutions. The reactions to the closure of Bury FC, the celebration of their late fans by Union Berlin in their first home game in the Bundesliga are signs that these clubs are places where fans can express themselves freely, have a good time albeit responsibly.
It is therefore important for these clubs to educate their fans at the very least about respecting diversity and tackling racism at the very early stages before it assimilates itself into a young fan’s thought process. A safe mechanism where fans can report other fans indulging in racist behaviour is essential to root this problem out of football grounds.
The British media have gone in two footed on the racism incident at Cagliari. However, they themselves have to look inward in their own yard before judging other nations. The outright biased reporting of the wealth of players like Raheem Sterling versus other white players is in fact a subtle form of racism which is shrugged aside as harmless. Add to this, a British prime minister who does not believe in creating a safe society for people from all backgrounds adds to the notion that Britain is not for non-white people.
The rise of far right parties across Europe and anti-immigration stands of governments is squarely to blame in the mindset of these fans who believe that it is acceptable to make such inflammatory statements or noises.
India is no stranger to racist abuse as well. We have seen numerous incidents where Indians refer to other dark skinned Indians and people from African countries in a derogatory manner. While it may be shrugged off as a harmless remark, it speaks of a culture that allows for such remarks to be deemed harmless when it fact is highly insulting and deserves no place in society.
To quote Martin Luther King – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”, the battle against racism in the modern day is very much a thing that matters and the silence and passive behaviour of institutions and individuals speaks volumes of where we are headed as a society.
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