The Fight Against Racism In Football Stadia

When Spain beat England in a friendly football match in February 2009, attention focussed as much on the antics of the home crowd as on the field of play.

Though the game passed without incident, Spanish football fans were under the close scrutiny of anti-discrimination campaigners and European football authorities alike. This followed an infamous match between the two sides in Madrid five years previously. Then, some 2000 Spanish fans at the Bernabeu stadium subjected England’s black players to racist chants and insults every time they touched the ball.

The supporters were roundly condemned. ''I think it's unacceptable to behave like that in a football stadium but also in any other walk of life,'' said Spain's Sports, Education and Science Minister, Maria Jesus san Segundo.

''It shows a lack of education. We're now introducing equality lessons onto the national school curriculum. Young people have to realise that regardless of sex, colour or culture every human being is the same.

''I'm also meeting the [Spanish] Secretary of State for Sport to discuss possible punitive measures to deal with this sort of thing in the future.''

Spain’s response to the incident marked a new phase in efforts to combat the racial baiting of black players at football stadia.

In truth, football authorities in continental Europe have been struggling to get a grip on the problem for decades, as is admitted with due frankness on the website of Fifa, the sport’s governing authority.

It stated: ''The phenomenon of racism in football is obviously not as old as the scourge of racism in society in general, but neither is it as recent as the current worrying situation may lead some to believe.

''Incongruously, the problem has sharpened just at a time when players have become more mobile than ever, not only between countries but between continents, and at a time when ethnic families have been otherwise integrated in their adopted homeland for several generations. The time has come to tackle the problem unequivocally.''

For black players from Lisbon to Larnaca, that moment cannot come soon enough. Indeed, some black players in Spain and Italy have threatened to leave the field of play rather than allow themselves to be subject to still more racist abuse from fans.

European football authority UEFA will discuss the issue at a 'Unite Against Racism' conference in Warsaw on 3-4 March.

Some 250 delegates from football associations, clubs, non-governmental organisations and the media are expected at the event organised by UEFA, the players' union FIFPro and the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network.

''Tackling racism and discrimination is an important social priority for UEFA and a range of initiatives have already been undertaken to identify problems, encourage action and ensure the right sanctions are imposed,'' said a spokesman.

''UEFA wants to look at the challenges facing the game in the east and what more the European football family can do.''

If football authorities in Europe are in search of 'good practice' on how to deal with racist fans, the United Kingdom’s experience offers a clear lead. Rather than simply control abusive fans, the country’s authorities seek to convict them in the criminal courts.

In December 2008, police published the photographs of 16 suspects wanted for the racist and homophobic abuse of Portsmouth and former England centre half Sol Campbell during a match against Spurs.

''I would regard this abuse as intolerable in any forum or venue - the excuse that it was at a football match is not a valid one,'' said Hampshire police superintendent Neil Sherrington.

''We want to send a clear message that abuse of this kind will not be tolerated and that we are taking robust action.''

Police also announced that fans convicted of abusing players risked fines of up to £1,000 and a ban from entering any football ground in Britain for up to 10 years.

Find out more

File ''Fight against Racism''
Podcast ''The Council against racism in football [en]''
Website of the Sport Division


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