The power to combat racism is with the players
By Chris Higham
Football currently has several burning issues that threaten to change the game for the worst, but none poses a greater threat than racism. Thought to be on the decline in many Leagues around the world, we have seen a recent upsurge in incidents that suggest we are no further to a solution than before. With authorities seeming to be impotent to stop the trend, it is with the players that the main hope lies in combating racism.
As we already know, the unfortunate part about racism is the ability for it to grow and spread like a virus. I was one of those who thought that the majority of the dark shadows of this disease had been eliminated, but then, I am not black. What we thought was a solution was in fact for the most part, just window dressing. Visible campaigns throughout Europe such as "Kick It Out" appeared to be achieving some success but black players knew differently. Moves towards casting doubt on those initiatives were made in England at the beginning of the season when players refused to wear specially made T-shirts to commemorate the progress against this scourge. The black players knew better. They knew that these efforts were just publicity stunts designed to make the average fan feel as if something was being done. Players refusing to co-operate by offering their support were criticised, but not too heavily as to draw too much attention. Everyone knew we were on thin ice.
Racism is the huge elephant in the room that no-one wants to acknowledge. It sits there in relative silence but every once in a while, it gets up to take a walk around and crushes all the furniture. Instead of leading the elephant away, the people in responsible positions would rather wait until the elephant gets tired and sits back down again. That way the damage is kept to a minimum, but guess what, the elephant is still there. Authorities don't want anyone to take action against the animal because then, serious and probably distasteful decisions will have to be made, and that is the last thing they want to do.
I was reminded of just how much racism there still is in our game and how pathetically impotent clubs, associations and ruling bodies are when I read a wonderful article by a Cardiff City fan who happened to make a trip to The San Siro to see the recent Milan Derby. His story told of how he feared for how Inter Milan fans would react to Mario Balotelli who had just recently signed for AC Milan. He was astonished to see souvenir stalls outside the stadium selling inflatable yellow bananas in full view of anyone who chose to look. It suddenly dawned on me that we aren't even trying to combat this disease. We just want everyone to think we are.
Another incident involving an AC Milan player Kevin Prince-Boateng happened a few weeks ago while he was playing for his club, AC Milan, in a friendly match against a lower League club in Italy. Sure enough, a few minutes into the match, Boateng was being harassed by sections of the crowd, forcing the player to make a positive statement. He walked off the field. It should have been a watershed moment, but it wasn't. Players and fans were generally supportive but clubs, UEFA and FIFA reacted half-heartedly and blandly gave the impression that they did not want to see a repeat of that behaviour. I disagree. That is exactly what we need. We're now faced with the sight of Boateng and Blatter meeting to discuss "action against racism". Meetings and more meetings. What else do we have to discuss?
How in this society today, can we as human beings allow this type of "thuggish" behaviour towards black players to occur without utter outrage? The answer is that no-one, certainly not those in power within the game, want to tackle it. They would rather treat it as "the elephant in the room". How can a League as prominent as Serie A in a country as westernised and cultured as Italy clearly permit blatant abuses to go unpunished, or more disgracefully, to recognise the issue and dish out a slap on the wrist.
Here is what should happen, and I guarantee you would see an immediate response for the better. The very next time there is an instance of racist abuse at any stadium anywhere, both sets of players should walk off the field immediately and the game should be abandoned. If it happens to be an important League game, or even better, a knockout Champions League encounter, so much the better. What this does is put the ball right back into the well cushioned laps of the game's lawmakers with a demand. "Fix this or we refuse to finish a match". It will throw a justified wet blanket over all of these so-called assurances that we get from Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter that we are controlling the problem, when in fact, it is being swept under the carpet. It is time for positive action.
The players have the power to change the game for the better and make huge strides towards eliminating the dark shadow of racism from our football stadiums for ever.
They just have to walk off and do it.