Across the spectrum of European professional soccer leagues, an epidemic of racism has emerged. Now, unexpectedly, these racist and discrimination-based incidents don’t take place on the field, but in the stands. You’ve heard that right. Fans supporting these teams that score a goal or fans cheering on their favorite players are inciting and introducing racist behaviors, usually against the opposing teams’ star players, as a way to knock down their morale.
Now, we have all booed an opposing team when they scored or made a lot of noise to try and distract players and that’s all well and good, but a line is crossed when you are personally affecting the players and calling them out on more than just their performance, especially when it comes to their race or ethnic background. Take last Sunday’s Serie A game between Italian football club Hellas Verona and Brescia; Mario Balotelli, a striker for Brescia who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents, tried to leave the soccer pitch following an outburst where he kicked a ball towards the fans that were abusing him with “monkey chants.” Teammates, and even the opposing team, consoled Balotelli and persuaded him to finish the match.
The fact that chants and cries from the fans can get to a point that it affects not only players’ morale, but it can potentially cause a team to walk off the field, as we saw with the FA Cup game between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town on Saturday, which was absolutely insane. No one in society should be discriminated against based on their race or ethnicity, especially if it interferes with their job productivity. I can’t believe that I have to actually write that, but here we are.
The only silver lining that I can see in this extremely bleak picture is that some of these clubs and football associations are actually taking action. In Everton F.C.’s case, after a fan was pictured in the stands making racist gestures against Tottenham Hotspur player Son Heung-Min, the team is investigating the supporter and the team stated in a tweet, “Everton strongly condemns any form of racism. Any such behavior has no place within our stadium, our club, our community or our game.”
On Tuesday, in response to Verona’s game, the Serie A disciplinary tribunal ordered the club to close the Poltrona Est Stand, the section in which the behavior occured, and banned the head of the club’s Ultras Supporters Group, Luca Castellini, the leader of the hardcore spectators or “ultras,” which incited these racist behaviors. Castellini later made comments on a radio show Monday claiming that these fans were being “irreverent” and didn’t take the situation seriously.
Sadly, Castellini isn’t the only one who took this incident with a grain of salt. Verona F.C. and many other clubs have officially claimed that these incidents are being blown out of proportion or that nothing serious happened. But that’s not the point; it doesn’t matter if it’s just one fan in the stands whose drunk and making racist slurs or a full-out brawl over discrimination. Both shouldn’t be allowed in the stands or anywhere near the sport; ideally, we shouldn’t even see it in society, but we don’t live in a perfect world and I understand that red. I can’t give a pass, however, to sports in which people and their interactions are on the world’s stage. Just be cordial, enjoy the game, cheer on the team and leave racism at the door.
Photo: M. Pagane