Racism: is there an answer?
It could be seen as a brave move by Uefa to stage the Euros in Eastern Europe, helping to spread the interest of football as a builder of communities and spreading the largesse of wealth among nations who have watched from afar when the competition was previously rotated among the usual European countries. Is it also an opportunity to educate those who accept racism as a way of life?
Staging the 2010 World Cup in South Africa fuelled the usual accusations of money-grubbing cynicism but there is no denying it also allowed us an insight into diverse cultures. A televisual world brings greater understanding of national character and what is – and, more importantly, what is not – morally acceptable to the rest of the world. We can all learn by making comparisons. As Marx said: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it.”
There is always a lesson from history and we ignore it at our peril. Famously, Ukrainians were renowned by the Nazis for their brutality and were used as concentration camp guards – never suspecting that, once the Jews, gypsies and homosexuals had been accounted for, that they were next on the list.
What did they learn? It would seem that some of them have chosen to ignore the warnings and racism is still endemic, especially among the young fans of the national team. So, is it best to abandon them and their archaic chants as throwbacks to a less enlightened age? Or demonstrate that they are at odds with modern morals? It’s a tightrope to walk; ignore and disregard them or include and educate but risk legitimasing them.
Freedom of speech is subjective and the need to strike a balance between “banter” and insult risks marginalising the very people it seeks to protect. One man’s risqué comment is another’s affront.
There will always be the unrepentant racist. A middle-aged skinhead in my pub still boasts of the time he threw a banana at John Barnes. The fact that he gets more jeers than cheers is a positive sign but although the times are changing, some attitudes aren’t.
Fifa/Uefa’s attempt to garner the wider football community into a cohesive force against racism is to be applauded as a step in the right direction but, having taken it, they will need to support both players and officials with appropriate tools. But here the governing bodies are lacking resolve: Uefa’s announcement that Mario Balotelli will be booked should he carry out his threat to walk off the pitch represents an impasse as it wouldn’t necessarily be a racist crowd that he finds on his back from the kick off!
In truth, it is a difficult situation. If a referee abandons a game, there is a very real risk of riot and violence. Fascism thrives on marginalisation. The longer view is that only by shaming this small percentage in front of an international audience can change be affected.
From an English perspective, the politics may be more interesting than the football …