Hanging from a motorway bridge in Madrid, an effigy of one of the world’s most famous black football players stands as a graphic reminder of the racism sweeping European football. In truth, they are everywhere.
In Italy , where monkey chants rang out at Juventus Stadium in April as Belgian-Congolese striker Romelu Lukaku scored a goal. In England , where the Gabonese Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang recently received a banana peel thrown by a hostile crowd during the North London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal. In France , where black national team players were the target of horrific online racial abuse after losing in the World Cup final in December.
The phenomenon also exists outside Europe. In Australia , monkey noises and fascist chants were heard during the Cup final last year. In South America , where the same monkey cries were uttered during matches in the continent’s biggest competition, the Copa Libertadores. In North Africa , where black players from sub-Saharan African teams have complained of being the target of racist chanting from Arab fans during the AFCON in Algeria .
A manifestation of a deeper societal problem, racism is a decades-old problem in football – primarily in Europe but seen around the world – that has been amplified by the reach of social media and a growing desire by people to denounce him . And to think that just 11 years ago Sepp Blatter , then president of football’s governing body FIFA , denied there was any racism in the game, saying any abuse should be dealt with by a handful tomorrow.
The Vinicius Junior case
The black player currently subjected to the most vicious, relentless and high-profile racial slurs is Vinicius Junior , a 22-year-old Brazilian who plays for Real Madrid , Europe’s most successful football team.
Last January, a rope was tied around the neck of an effigy of Vinicius. The figure was then hung from an overpass near Madrid’s training ground in the Spanish capital. Two weeks ago, Vinicius left the lawn of Valencia in tears after being once again called a monkey.
“I have a purpose in life ,” he said on Twitter. “If I have to continue to suffer so that future generations do not have to go through these types of situations, I am ready and prepared.”
Spanish football authorities do little to stop the abuse, which makes racism an integral part of the sport. Indeed, federations around the world have been too slow – in some cases apparently reluctant – to acquire the power to sanction teams for the racist behavior of their supporters, despite being authorized by FIFA to do so . since 2013 .
Almonds ? Of course. Partial stadium closures? All right. But more severe sanctions, such as point deductions or expulsion from competitions? This seems reserved for issues such as financial mismanagement, not racial abuse of players.
This results in frustration and a sense of helplessness among black players and those who want to protect them. Asked what he expects to happen after the Vinicius incident, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said: “To condemn is not enough. No one has done anything in a way that will make this problem go away.”
When racism was rampant in English football and hooliganism was on the rise, black players were just beginning to integrate into some of the League’s biggest teams.
Liverpool , arguably the most famous football club in the world at the time, fielded their first black player only in 1980. Chelsea followed two years later by bringing in Paul Canoville .
The Chelsea player was regularly called ‘ the N-word ‘, often told to ‘ go home ‘ and thrown bananas at him.
There was no safety net for Canoville or other racially abused black players – a problem epitomized by a heartbreaking photo of Liverpool great John Barnes kicking a banana off the pitch with his heel in 1988.
“Five thousand people behind the goal are singing ‘Black this, Black that’. It’s difficult to play in these conditions”, explains Mark Bright. Born to a Gambian father and an English mother, he played for several English clubs in the 1980s and 1990s. “A black guy scored a goal and they didn’t like it and monkey cries rang out” , he adds_._
“The TV channels failed us, the radio failed us, the Professional Footballers’ Union failed us ,” said Bright, now 60.
Anti-racism campaigns and slogans are welcome, but increasingly seen as symbolic, such as ridiculous fines imposed on clubs or federations for racial abuse by fans.
As in 2012, when UEFA fined the Spanish federation €20,000 for racist chants by its Spanish supporters during the European Championship, while the international body, at around the same time, chose to fining a Danish player five times as much for revealing underpants stamped with a bookmaker’s name.
Experts believe the global outrage, widespread backlash and outpouring of support for Vinicius following his latest abuse could mark a turning point in Spain’s fight against racism. It has certainly struck a chord in Brazil , where protests have taken place outside the Spanish consulate in Sao Paulo , as the Spanish league now seeks to toughen its stance. Its protocol so far has been to detect and report incidents and forward the evidence to the courts, where cases are usually dismissed.
Denounce and fight
Jacco van Sterkenburg , Professor of Race, Inclusion and Communication, especially in relation to football and the media at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, believes that explicit racism in stadiums is more accepted and normalized in parts of Spanish and southern European football culture compared to countries like England and the Netherlands, where the media, former players and football associations have openly addressed the question.
“When, as a football association, you don’t take a strong stance against this and repeat this message over and over again, it will reappear,” says Van Sterkenburg. “_You must repeat the message that this is not allowed or accepted._ When nothing is happening, you must always repeat this message. Some clubs have programs in place where they repeat this message, even when nothing is happening. pass. This sets the standard, n continuous.”
Football needs outside help against racism and is getting it through anti-discrimination campaigners such as Kick It Out in Britain and LICRA in France. The Fare Network , a pan-European group set up to tackle discrimination in football, places undercover observers in the crowds at Europe’s biggest matches to detect racist chants and extremist symbols on banners.
“This is a historic moment that could transform the way discriminatory behavior in football is dealt with.” Our response to the @FA decision introducing point deductions in football for repeated incidents of serious misconduct.
As for black players themselves, some – like Vinicius and others like Samuel Eto’o , Mario Balotelli and Romelu Lukaku – speak out against abuse when they see it, determined to lead the fight against racism. That’s what Paul Canoville , the target of racist insults as English club Chelsea’s first black player in the 1980s, would have liked to do.
“They should say something right away,” he says of the black players. “I didn’t do it in my time and I had to learn from that. It’s something I teach young players today.”