On the 11th of November 2019, Brazillian attacking midfielder Taison was sent off whilst playing in a Ukrainian Premier League game against Dynamo Kiev, leaving the pitch in floods of tears. After the game Luis Casto, head coach of Tasion’s Shakhtar Donetsk, said “It is, it was and it will be a shame for all and we have to fight against it every day, every minute and every second”. The two events don’t really work together, the act of being sent off is usually associated with a reckless moment or heated exchange between players of opposing teams. In this instance, the altercation was between fans and players. Taison was racially abused by fans of the opposition team, with him lashing out and hitting the ball towards them, being sent off for retaliating to them.
With the dawn of the 2019/20 season, it seems a new wave of racism has been plaguing the beautiful game, with examples ranging from Israel, with Beitar Jerusalem, who are politically aligned with the Zionist movement all the way to Europe where all the top leagues have had a brush with the abhorrent.
At both international and domestic level, England has been hit by racism. During the qualification rounds of Euro 2020, the team were abused in both Bulgaria and Montenegro, with Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings saying, “I heard it before I even got to the other side of the pitch during the warmup”. Back in the British Isles, many players have seen the English fans turn on them, the most notable interaction was during the Manchester Derby, where a Manchester City fan appeared to be racially abusing Manchester United player Fred. However lower leagues of football have also had issues with discrimination, a match between Yeovil Town and Haringey Borough, in the FA Cup Qualifying round, was abandoned due to abuse directed against players.
Figures published by anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out show that the amount of reports are rising, from 214 to 313 between 2017 and 2019. Although concerning, the statistics do have an air of promise. The rise in reports may not just mean that there is more discrimination happening in football, but it may mean that fans and players are more likely to report the abuse that they hear.
However, the issues are not confounded to England. Over towards the Mediterranean, Italy have arguably the worst reputation for examples of discrimination. Most recently there have been attempts to implement a strict policy against racism specifically. The campaign involved a poster depicting three different monkeys and was regarded widely as inappropriate and offensive.
“With racism the league doesn’t do much to help the cause. Fans will continue to do what they do until a severe punishment is made” are the words of Jerry Mancini, writer for the Laziali, a Lazio based fan page. The overbearing message is that the uniquely played Italian football and the equally unique fans that adore it, are being let down by the percentage of fans who persist with the unneeded abuse. “Italian football without the racism has been great, the battle for first has been competitive with Juventus, Inter Milan and Lazio all within three points of one another”.
The Italian media has also infatuated the problem, producing the infamous “Black Friday” headline, showing Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling alongside. Despite the content in the piece praising the players, the headline was done deaf and against what the league stands for. Mancini has seen a rise in fan-based accounts fighting the abuse, “AC Milan and Roma has done a good job this season with their accounts fighting against racism and violence which is great to see.”
The fact of the matter is that very few people are racist just because they are a football fan. The general stereotype of a football fan is that they frequent pubs and bars before the game, partaking in violent, drunken activities and generally making a mess of their surroundings. During the game they swear and shout at anything and everything and label this as “passion”. This stereotype is growing due to the racist and discriminatory antics of not even the 1% of football fans.
Racism is often used as a blanket term; however, it can be a lot deeper and more complex than that once you get past surface level.
The heart of the issue is the ideology of people. In some cases, it is something that is buried in the history of a fixture, a primary example of this is the Rangers vs Celtic rivalry which is one of the highest profile derby fixtures in the UK. The two teams come from two very different religious backgrounds, Celtic, who have a lot of fans from Ireland, are a Catholic club who were originally founded with the purpose of helping Irish immigrants out of poverty in Glasgow. Rivals Rangers on the other hand are Protestant. Both sets of fans fuel Sectarianism which is the rivalry between Catholicism and Protestantism.
Charities, such as Nil By Mouth have been set up with a objective of “promoting the elimination of Sectarian attitudes and behaviours in Scotland with a view to the advancement of greater understanding and respect”.
However, many racist incidents can be attributed to a lack of education. “It is a societal issue, there’s no doubt about that, you only have to take a look at football around the continent to see there is a widespread problem”. Brendan McLoughlin has seen football ranging from League two to the Premier League, seeing football fans at all levels. The parallels being drawn between Brexit and the attitudes and the political turmoil have also influenced the beautiful game. “For all the efforts made by Kick It Out in this country to educate, it does feel like racism is rearing its head at games more frequently”.
The fact of the matter is that without the diversity of the players that play the game, football wouldn’t be the game it is today. A prime example is the French national team who won the world cup. Of the current squad 87% of them were born in France (34/39) however only 26% of them are of French heritage (10/39).
The wider picture is that football is affected by the politics of the area that it is played in, with immigration and freedom of movement legislation changing all the time and laws coming in that inhibit discrimination, football will always remain a casualty of its surroundings. No one goes to a football match and turns into a racist, its something that person already is.