Racism in football: England SHOULD have walked away

Racists: Bulgarian fans throw Nazi salutes at England’s footballers.

It isn’t such a long time since England supporters were the racists that every other footballing nation dreaded having to host.

A co-ordinated effort was made to shut down the troublemakers, using video evidence to identify them and prevent them from travelling abroad.

Now it seems clear that racism is a scourge that overshadows the sport internationally in any case. I remember a recent international tournament in which Russian fans were expected to start racist violence; last night (October 14) England team members suffered racist abuse from Bulgarians.

UEFA has a three-point plan to deal with racism in football matches – but authorities acted on only the first two parts of it.

After Tyrone Mings was subjected to racist chanting, stadium authorities used the public address system to announce that the referee would consider abandoning the match due to racist behaviour.

But it continued, and in the 41st minute, England players were asked if they wished to enact the second part of the protocol and go back to their dressing room. They chose to play on, at least until half-time.

It was when more racism flared up during the second half that the fight against it was let down. According to UEFA’s protocol, the match should have been abandoned.

But England played on, winning a 0-6 victory. The argument is that the players let their football do the talking, took the victory and the three points that went with it, and left with their heads held high.

What does this actually say, though? That we’ll tolerate racism if we’re winning?

John Barnes seems to think so. In an Independent column, the former footballer who himself suffered an enormous amount of racist abuse reminds us that two matches have been abandoned in accordance with the UEFA protocol so far – and on both those occasions, the teams suffering the abuse were losing.

The implication is clear – that the abuse was used as an excuse to get out of a loss.

England, on the other hand, was in a position to make a genuinely positive statement – and didn’t.

“When we were 4-0 up, and there was continued racism towards England’s players, albeit less than the first half, we should have seen the inevitable result of our zero tolerance stance on racism, and the third step of that protocol SHOULD have been enforced,” wrote Mr Barnes.

He stated that the team chose to “leave the stunning moment that could redefine football’s relationship with racism for another team, another time.”

And he wrote: “When a team does that, then it truly would be a real statement of support for the fight against racism in football.”

And also against the rise against racism all around.

I have a friend from Bulgaria. I cannot imagine any situation in which he would exhibit the kind of behaviour we saw from his countrymen (and women?) at the match.

But racism is on the rise, especially in eastern Europe – due to a combination of events that have propelled populist, far-right organisations to prominence. Here in the UK, austerity* that was brought in on the back of the financial crisis needed a scapegoat, and migrant workers in the UK were chosen for that role. It is one of the reasons people voted to pull the UK out of the European Union.

There was no reason to impose austerity on anybody, remember. It was a political decision by the Conservatives, in order to shrink state spending and deprive poorer people of the services their taxes have funded. The rise in racism this triggered was collateral damage that the Tories were happy to allow – because it diverted blame away from them.

A gesture against racism in a hugely popular sport like football might go a long distance to counter this movement toward hate. England has missed a huge opportunity – winning the match but losing the moral high ground.

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12 thoughts on “Racism in football: England SHOULD have walked away

  1. trev

    It’s hard to imagine what goes through the minds of such morons, do they think WW2 was a joke? Rightwing extremism seems to have been on the rise internationally for several years, neo-Nazi thugs and White Supremacist numbskulls in Europe, Russia, USA. It won’t change until we all have fair and just Leadership in governments, not the likes of Trump, Putin, Boris, Orban, etc.

  2. Zippi

    This is why I say that you don’t understand what racism is. Racism did not flare up, at any point during the match, it was ever present and people, like me, have to tolerate racism every day of our lives, whether we are winning, or not. We don’t get that choice. We can walk away from certain situations but as far as racism goes, we don’t get to choose, it is something that we learn to live with.
    Football will never be free of racists and racism until society is. You cannot legislate against it, that has been tried for how long? The problem is DEEP, fundamental and it is within the power structures that govern every aspect of our lives and it informs not just how we are viewed by those who look different from us but how we view ourselves and it is exhausting.
    I applaud you for highlighting the issue of overt racist behaviour in football but if you think that, by applying a few rules, you can lance the boil, you are very much mistaken. This is but a symptom of something much bigger.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      You are arguing over semantics. Perhaps you would prefer it if I had stated “racist behaviour flared up”, or “acts of racism flared up”. The effect is the same. We cannot be aware of racism in others until it becomes evident – unless you are suggesting that you simply assume it to be present in other people without any action on their part? I would suggest that to be a highly prejudicial viewpoint.

      I don’t think I made any suggestion that enforcing the rules in this single instance would solve racism in football. I was simply putting forward an opinion on what should have happened on that occasion.

      1. Zippi

        It might be semantics to you but to me and people like me, it is our every day existence. The idea that we’ll tolerate racism we are winning suggests that we have a choice, when we, who have to deal with this sort of thing on a daily basis do not. As I said, we have to tolerate it, whether we are winning, or not. If we had walked off, the racists would have won. The way to deal with them is what has happened. I was not suggesting that doing what you suggest would solve racism in football, not least, because it won’t, because racism is a societal issue; this is what I was trying to impress.
        There was a B.B.C. exposé, called The Secret Policeman. It followed recruits at a North Walian Constabulary. One of the recruits was passionately and vehemently racist. Everybody said that it was terrible but nobody asked why. You can’t be racist and a policeman so, racists, who want to join the force, lie. I and many like me, would rather have an openly racist policeman; at least we’d know where we stand.
        The result was that this chap is no longer in the police force but you can bet that he is still racist. He has gone underground. To me, the programme failed.
        We can’t keep papering over the cracks. We can’t keep dealing only with the symptoms, while ignoring the disease. We have to have a proper conversation and people need to stop making excuses and see what it staring them in the face and watering down so-called definitions really does not help. People need to understand how insidious it is; it is not always so blatant, especially to people who are not on the receiving end. You recognise anti-Semitism and rightly condemn its propagation yet you seem and I stress “seem” to treat racism in a cavalier way, certainly by comparison.
        I’m not here to attack you, Mike, I want you to understand what it is like, as best I can but you have to be willing to listen and be guided where you don’t know the territory, rather than tell me what my life experience should be, which is why I became incensed, the other day. Seriously, I and people like me, get tired of being told by people who don’t have our experience, what racism is. Even in 2019, I am getting ready to give my half-French nephews “The Talk.” Having to explain to people who should be having fun and living care-free lives, that they are going to have to work so much harder than their peers, just to be considered the same, purely by virtue of the colour of their skin, that people look at them differently but this is not their fault and things are improving.
        We get told where we come from, where we should go, how we should talk, dress, what we should eat, how we should wear our hair and what’s worse is how we treat each other, because of it. This is daily life.This is but a snapshot so, forgive me, if I criticise your semantics; like I said, to me and people like me, it is life.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        We’re going to have to differ about this one, because you are making this part of a global issue while I am just saying what I believe should have happened at the time. Racism is not to be tolerated; the answer is to deprive the racists of what they want. The best way to deal with evil is to starve it. So you end the game – postpone it until another date or, more punitively, award it to the team suffering the racism. Other measures may be taken to exclude those exhibiting the racism from future matches. Football authorities function to ensure the smooth progression of matches and the legal conduct of their business – that’s all. It is not their job to solve a societal issue that has been going on ever since the first time anyone saw someone whose skin was a different colour.

        I’m not cavalier about racism. I don’t tolerate it, personally – from people of any colour. But I know I’m not going to solve it by telling the loudmouth in the pub to stop spouting incoherent hate. He’ll just go away angry at me. The answer is much more complicated and will not come from a football match. All that can be done there is to deprive the racists of what they want.

        And please try to remember that everybody can be exposed to racism. I have. It is not the exclusive province of people whose skin happens to be a darker colour. Suggesting that is, itself, a form of racism. It is a worldwide scourge.

      3. Zippi

        No, I agree with much of what you say but I am not making it a global issue, merely stating that you cannot get rid of racism in football, because it is manifest of a societal issue. When I said that racism was ever present, we know that is was, because the guys were racist, they didn’t suddenly become racist when they went to the match. I am not suggesting that you are cavalier, I said, and I stressed, that you seem to be, certainly in certain conversations that we have had with regard to the issue. I have to say however and it is not something that I usually say but I find it deeply offensive for you to suggest that I am, somehow, racist by suggesting what has always been considered racism. What you experience, although I condemn it, is not what I and others like me experience and doesn’t even come close. It is something completely different and to try to suggest that it is, is a nonsense and this is what I meant by “watering down.” By creating, suddenly, an umbrella term for something that was – and as far as those who experience it still is – specific, lessens the effect and suddenly everybody can claim and your experience somehow loses validity. “we get it, too and it’s not that bad” and before you know it, we’re being told to shut up and be quiet, again. This is what I was trying to impress upon you.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        Was I suggesting that it was possible to end racism in football by taking the team’s off the pitch? No. But it was what was available and should have been enacted – as has happened elsewhere since.

        Also, I do not try to belittle your experience of racism, and I expect the handcuffed in return. I didn’t suggest racism was “not that bad” and it is wrong for you to suggest such a thing.

      5. Zippi

        You misunderstand me, Mike. I am not saying, or suggesting that YOU are saying, or suggesting these things but that this is the effect. £ike I said, you do not experience what I and those like me experience so, it is very difficult to enable you understand, which is precisely why I argue that those things are not racism. Apart from a few highly publicised incidents, one might be fooled into thinking that racism has all but gone from these shores. What has been made public comes as no surprise to me and those like me, because it is normal. Aye, things have changed and changed a great deal but the problem has by no means gone away, or even into the next room, it is a daily occurrence and it is exhausting. It was I who said that you cannot get rid of racism in football, because it is manifest in society and I did, in an earlier post, explain why I thought that to be the case.
        I do try to be careful with my language and I did explain that I am not here to attack you, merely to explain that what you consider, or understand to be racism is not what we experience and why it is so upsetting to be told that others know better than we do. This is what we experience much of the time.

      6. Mike Sivier Post author

        But you don’t know what I have experienced so you can’t make a qualitative judgement. Some might say it is racist of you to make the assumptions inherent in your comment. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing that it has come out. If it’s exposed, it can be tackled.

  3. wildthing666

    Bulgaria should get what English club teams had to endure a ban from competitions. Add to that a heavy fine and a total ban on their supporters travelling to friendlies while banned from competitions.

  4. xpressanny

    I understand your comment but I cannot agree. It was stopped twice but it was the PLAYERS who wanted to carry on. Remember their pride in themselves, their country and their fans was at stake. Tyrone Mings said last nite that there was no way they wanted to stop playing.

  5. Gary

    Sadly racism is NOT gone from English football, far from it. It HAS lessened on the international games, but not at local club level.

    Sadly, for me, where I live the chanting, shouting and violence is sectarian – yet MORE insidious if you can believe it. But in both the cases of racism and sectarianism in football the problem is the same, ‘fans’ who feel free to act in this way while they are out, in public, at a football game. The culture of football is wrong and won’t change until those at the top do something about it to make it socially unacceptable. In parts of England racism is the norm, so changing it’s acceptability through football will be a service to society in general. Sectarianism is somewhat different in this respect. Confined (mostly) to Scotland and to the teams Celtic & Rangers in Glasgow and Hearts & Hibs in Edinburgh the teams actively DEPEND on sectarianism for their support. For example, someone living in Paisley might naturally be a St Mirren supporter as it’s their local team BUT depending on their religion they will ALSO support Celtic or Rangers. The sectarian teams therefore get their own local support PLUS the support of at least half the country.

    When football teams actually ban supporters for life, name and shame them then that will be a START. In Scotland the Scottish Government in conjunction with the Football Association legislated to ensure that Sectarian chanting and singing became an offence at football matches and/or the way to and from games. It was often the trigger for violence outwith stadiums. However, much to it’s shame, and to garner votes from the sectarian element who follow these teams, the Labour Party made it policy to overturn this law to reintroduce sectarian chanting and singing and make it perfectly legal again!! This is the Scottish equivalent of promoting racism.

    These are the depths that politicians will sink to to get a vote. Sadly Labour were then able to push through a repeal of the bill with the help of their friends in the Tory Party. Scottish football has now taken a step backwards – by about twenty years.

    It DID get Labour some extra votes but I truly believe that the safety of the public and doing the right thing, morally, are more important than winning some sick, hollow victory over the SNP. Scottish Labour should be ashamed of itself…

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