2011 has not been a great year for football and its inglorious relationship with racism. Despite the Kick it Out campaign and the vast numbers of footballers of non-white European heritage playing the game, racism continues to raise its ugly head. We have seen this year the Suarez issue, the Terry’s abuse of Anton Ferdinand, Eboué being pelted with missiles, Zenit St. Petersburg fans waving a banana at Roberto Carlos, and Sepp Blatter’s rather unfortunate comments, which paint the game in a less-than-flattering light.
Suarez was hit with a an 8-match ban and a GBP40k fine by the English FA for calling Evra a “negrito” repeatedly during a match. Whether or not any malice was intended I will not touch upon, I’ll point you to Linguistrix for that. The punishment is exemplary not for the player (who earns GBP70k a week and will continue to get paid for the duration of the ban), but for the Liverpool, who will lose their most prolific striker for almost two months. The FA is clearly sending out a message to clubs playing under its banner: cut out racism or face the consequences.
John Terry, on the other hand, once again showed what an odious man he is by calling Ferdinand a “black c**t”. There’s no denying here that malice was intended which was based upon the player’s racial heritage. It didn’t surprise me that England captain had far more people defending him than Suarez… the British media can be notoriously fickle. It did come as a surprise and a breath of fresh air, then, when the Crown Prosecution Service announced its intention to press criminal charges.
Ex-Arsenal and current Galatasaray player Emmanuel Eboué was pelted with assorted objects by Besiktas fans in a match last month. The conclusion that many people in England (judging from the reactions on various blogs and comments sections) drew upon hearing this is that the abuse must’ve been racially motivated. For a league with a patchy history with the racism issue that certainly seemed the case at first glance. However, it wasn’t so, and Eboué was simply facing the consequences for being the colourful (pun fully intended) person he is. In fact, Besiktas fans even showed solidarity with Samuel Eto’o in 2006 after he was treated to monkey chants by Zaragoza fans. This is not to say that Besiktas shouldn’t be punished for failing to control their fans, but credit must be given where it’s due.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is notoriously susceptible to foot-in-mouth disease, committed yet another faux pas when he said that racism on the pitch must be forgiven with a handshake. Deplorable though his comments may be, it is interesting to note that much of the outrage at his comments came from England.
England seems to be at the forefront of the fight against racism at the moment. Few other Football Associations are showing any signs of contributing towards the fight. Zenit (whose fans have been involved in several racism incidents) were fined the grand sum of approx. GBP 6,000 for the Carlos incident. Zaragoza were fined 9,000 euros for Eto’o.
Why then, does the English establishment feel the need to set an example?
Racism finds its roots in post-Industrial Revolution imperialism. White Europeans conquered practically the whole world and subjugated the natives who were almost always of a different colour. It thus created the general impression that whites must be superior to blacks. Britain was at the forefront of the Imperialist juggernaut. I may be completely wrong about the origins of racism, but examples of racist cruelty towards natives of British colonies abounds.
Is England now trying to compensate for its past? In my opinion, the answer’s a bit more complicated than that. There is no denying that racism is a blot that must be eradicated. England’s attitude is one that must be followed by the world, irrespective of colour, so that we are rid of racism once and for all. The US did it in the 19th century, when half the country realised its horrible mistakes and fought the then bloodiest war in human history to rid itself of the stigma of slavery. The Netherlands, in the post-Apartheid era, has among the highest proportion of coloured inhabitants in Europe, and no history of colour-racism in football (plenty of anti-semitism though). Europe, ashamed of the treatment meted out to Jews by Nazi Germany, gave them back their promised land bang in the middle of Arab territory, to hell with the political fallout. What England is doing now is on the same lines.
There’s nothing like guilt to right a person’s wrongs. This is the premise on which modern prison systems were intended to work – to isolate the prisoner and make him ponder over the consequences of his actions, before putting him back into the world. When he comes out, he should not just live like a good citizen, but actively fight the crime that he was incarcerated for. Maybe other criminals will listen when one of their own preaches against it. It is when this ideal is forgotten that justice and prison systems begin to fail.
England is now going through this phase of self-realisation. If England hadn’t been so hated in the world of football, maybe more countries would sit up and take notice of the shift in attitude. Perhaps one or two will, and we may see this attitude cascade through the rest of football. We may be on the cusp of a global shift in mentality. Full credit to England for its stance, and if the Kick it Out campaign finally does succeed, 2011 will certainly be seen as a turning point in the war against racism.