Discrimination in Soccer

Football has become a very popular sport over time, with some of its major tournaments, such as The World Cup, being the most watched sports competitions. Given that such tournaments are held with a significant time pauses, the individual nations have their own internal leagues. With time, these national leagues have become very popular, boasting a large wave of followers all over the world. This has also necessitated an entry into these leagues of the foreign players as professional players. These successful leagues are majorly situated in Europe, with those from Spain, Italy, and England being the most successful ones. Entry of players from other countries has led to another vice, which is racial discrimination. This is a form of aggression directed at a player on the basis of his race and/or skin color. Many laws have been formed by the football governing body, FIFA, in an attempt to curb the problem, but these efforts have been proved from time to time as being not fully effective. The respective football administrations in each of the leagues have tried to clamp down on it, with the results of their efforts varying from one nation to another. It is clear that there is a racial discrimination in these major soccer leagues. However, the question is what the actual scope of problem is. The following paper will present a research into this issue, which will cover the previously mentioned leagues. The main aim is to know to what extent racial discrimination is present in the football world, as well as who becomes the main victims of it. It is done in a bid to find breakable pattern to perpetuation of the vice, which, in turn, can benefit the global sports in general. The hypothesis used in this research is that racial discrimination is majorly aimed at the dark-skinned players, irrespective of their nationality.

The premier league, the most popular of the three, comes first under scrutiny. The forms of discrimination in this league are both explicit and implicit. The implicit form comes majorly from the match officials, especially the center referee, with the discrimination taking a form of an official punishment, which is dished out in a far more lenient manner. A research done on this kind of discrimination, based on the in-match data, revealed that there is implicit discrimination, although the English Football Administration refuted any possibility of such a scenario. In this study, it was realized that white referees were awarding a large number of the yellow cards to the players, who are not white, with some of the decisions made even before the player appealed to the foul committed. When data on the white players was reviewed, there was a significantly lower number of the yellow cards awarded on average throughout the season. Further analysis showed that the non-white players got their yellow cards just seconds after committing their first fouls with little or no warning given prior to the yellow card being shown. It was not the case with the white players, who could commit many fouls with only warnings being given without the yellow cards. This was greatly blamed on the implicit discrimination that seems to fester unnoticed. The fact that some of the decisions are later found to be ambiguous is another pointer that the referees pay little attention to the situation before making the decision; something that fails to be explained by discrimination based on mere statistics or taste. It is even more notable that one of the match officials was found guilty of racially abusing a player in Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge in one of the premier league games; something that resulted in that referee being banned from officiating any march in the same ground. What is more baffling is the fact that the English Football Administration only banned the said referee from one pitch, with no other disciplinary measure taken to ensure that he, or any other match official, will not take part in racial discrimination in the future. 

 

Another pattern of implicit discrimination in the premier league involves the hiring of managers and other top officials. There are only two black coaches in the whole of England, with all of them being in the lower tire. It had become a concern, which made the English FA Chief and the current Chelsea boss speak out and echo their belief that there is no discrimination and that those hired have the skills that the employer wants. It may sound as a good explanation, except that it implicates that blacks do not have the necessary skills to coach a top flight English team; something insulting both the Blacks and also those asserting that there is no discrimination. This employer discrimination does not seem to have an end soon, if the employer feels justified in his hiring and the authorities agree with the trend. The admission by the FA Chief that there are “bullies” in the Premier League means he understands who is behind the discrimination, and who the perpetrator of the vice is.

In the year 2011 and also in the year 2012, there were two reports of the direct discrimination aimed at the black players; one English and the other, a foreigner. In 2012, Patrice Evra of Manchester United FC was racially abused by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez (Jones). On a different incident, John Terry, the Chelsea Captain, was accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers, a case that would take its time in court, with a fellow black player, Ashley Cole, English, testifying of Terry. He was later acquitted of the offense, in contrast to Suarez, who had to serve an eight match ban for the offense. The punishments for the two were said to be lenient, and the effects on curbing this vice have, thus, been far unmeasurable. Below is the image of the time, when Suarez is alleged to have abused Evra.

This issue of racial discrimination is not confined to England, it has also been witnessed in Italy’s Seria A. Unlike in England, where major of the discrimination is between employers and managers, players and fellow players, and match officials against players, in Italy it takes the form of coach against players, club owners against players, and even Italy Football Association officials against players. Players affected are both Italian and non-Italian. In May 2013, Mario Balotelli, an Italian AC Milan player, was subject of the chanting by a section of fans at AC Milan’s San Siro Stadium. That day, he and other black players on the field were the objects of monkey chants, with the situation getting so bad that the referee was forced to pause the match in the second half, with a warning being issued through the public address system before the game continued. Massimiliano Allegri, the Milan manager, expressed his anger in the post-match press conference saying, “People should go to the stadium to see two teams battling each other on the pitch, not this sort of thing, and it’s a place for the uncivilized. Above all, the culture in Italy is backward. Tonight we had racism, laser beams flashed in the eyes of players and an interrupted match”. This means that some nations are not open to the people of different colors working in their environments, even when they have nationality of that country, like in the case of Balotelli. The fine that was imposed on Milan for the abuse is very unlikely to have any effect at all, given that no direct culprit was taken to court. Indeed, money seems to be the aim of the punishments and not the deterring of future occurrences per se.

In a high profile racist row, Carlos Tavecchio, an aspiring President of the Italian body, was recorded by the media calling black players “banana eaters”, a term taken to mean he was referring them to monkeys. This was the highest ranking official, who has been publicly recorded racially discriminating against the black players despite responsibility of the governing body being in charge of defending players against such an abuse. It was postulated that he would not win the presidency after such remarks, but instead he won it. This was a subtle hint from those, who took part in the elections, that they still believed in his leadership; something that can be taken to mean they do not mind his racial tendencies. In other words, they support him and his vices; hence, supporting racial discrimination in Italian football. The issue threatened the reputation of football as a whole, forcing the game’s governing body, FIFA, to sanction investigation of Tavecchio by the Italian Football Federation. These were his words, “In England they select players based on professionalism, whereas we say that ‘Opti Poba’ is here, he was eating bananas before and now he’s starting for Lazio and that’s OK”. The involvement of high profile officials in such racial abuse cases poses a great danger to the efforts being made at eradicating racism in soccer. This official was banned from serving in any football governing body for a certain period of time; though, it is clear that after the ban is over, he will resume in the office. The question remains whether the ban makes the offenders better. This is unlikely; three or six months do not change a man’s thinking. It is my opinion that a long-term solution should be banning those found guilty from football for life.

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Another player that has been the subject of racial abuse and discrimination is Kevin-Prince Boateng, who was racially attacked during a friendly game between Milan and Pro Patria. Infuriated, the player resulted in the match being abandoned, when he kicked the ball towards the fans, who were chanting against him, followed by walking off the pitch with his shirt off. This caused his team-mates to follow his example in walking off the pitch, with the match having to be abandoned. This show by Boateng was hailed as a display of bravery, with many Italian papers, like La Repubblica, branding the action as the most reasonable given the circumstances. Indeed, it earned him an audience with the United Nations delegates, whom he was invited to address on the topic of importance of facing racism. This was the forum, in which he was also supposed to meet Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president. 

La Liga has not been spared of this scorching football vice. The latest of the many incidences is a case, where a Barcelona player, Dani Alves, had a banana thrown at him, as he prepared to take a corner during a game between Barcelona and Villarreal. His response to the abuse was hailed as very encouraging to those, facing such abuses. In a show of no anger, he picked the ripe banana, peeled, and took a bite off it before going on to take the corner (Uribarri). Many people, including his teammate Neymar, applauded his composure at dealing with the incident. He even posted a picture of him and his son easting a banana with the caption, “we are all monkeys, so what?” This fact has attracted a great interest in the social media. Villarreal, ashamed by the behavior of its fans, conducted a thorough security check on its tapes from the CCTVs. They later announced that they had found the culprit, a holder of a season-long ticket, who was also a worker at the stadium. He was banned from the stadium for life, consequently losing his job there. Despite this aggressive show of intention to end racism by the individual clubs in La Liga, the efforts have been thwarted from time to time by the errant fans, who are bent on showing that black people are not legible to play in Spain.

Going back to the year 2006, Samuel Eto’o, then a Barcelona player, was the object of monkey chants by the fans of Zaragoza. He felt so irritated and humiliated that he decided to walk off the pitch. This made the match halt until his teammates convinced him to continue playing before it continued. This was among the many times that he had been racially abused while on the pitch. The most notable part of this was that the center referee did not make any remark concerning the monkey chants in his report; something, that could be interpreted to mean he did not see any problem with the chants. In other words, he was comfortable with players being racially abused, while he is in charge, finding no reason to officially report the incident. One will, thus, be forgiven for saying that the match official was in a way resist. None of the top La Liga officials found it necessary to investigate the matter. Thus, it was summarily forgotten. The most traumatic part for the affected player is that he could not bring his family to the stadium for the games where he was playing, because of the difficulty of having to explain to the children what the chants meant; something, he was not in a position to do. As if this was not enough, Marcelo, a Real Madrid player, became a target of a section of Atletico Madrid fans in the Santiago Bernabeu. This particular player is abused racially even when he is not on the pitch, to an extent that the abuse is directed to his son. Such abuses are aimed at the non-Spanish players, and no action has ever been taken by the Spanish Football Administration, which is reason for concern on the commitment of La Liga to root out racism. It is worth noting that while the football authorities have proved unconcerned, the police have always found enough reason to investigate some of the abuses. Thus, the question, whether it is the responsibility of the police to ensure discipline in the Spanish league or the Spanish Football governing body is legally responsible for this task, remains unanswered. The conclusion is that the Spanish authorities are unconcerned mainly because the targeted players are not Spanish. Actually, in another incident, even some of the Spanish players are subject of the racial abuse; something, that also goes uninvestigated by the Spanish football body.

The most infuriating of all the racial abuses is when a national newspaper dedicates a whole column to the racially abused players in Spain. The paper in question is El Mundo Deportivo. It is not conceivable how the authorities allowed this newspaper to print a whole column with an article, where they likened Real Madrid players Pepe, Alvaro Arbeloa, and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa to monkeys. They went ahead to make a direct reference to Charles Darwin, while suggesting that these players were yet to evolve. One may wonder who else is to serve as the teacher for those still engraved in racism, if the media, which is supposed to educate them, also participates in racist abuses. The fact that no action was taken against the said media house is proof that neither the Spanish government nor the Spanish football governing body are interested in investigating and instituting necessary laws to guard the non-white players playing in that country. Much can be said of Spain as the best football league, but it is the most unsuitable place for the non-white players to develop their career. 

Thus far, it is safe to say that of the three leagues discussed above, the English Premier League is the safest one for the black players to play in; moreover, it has shown tremendous effort in trying to reduce the cases of racism to the bare minimum. This is followed by the Italian Seria A, which although plagued by many incidences of racism, shows the efforts of combating the problem despite their efforts being thwarted by the errant behaviors of some of the officials of the Italian football Association. Lastly comes the Spanish La Liga, the worst in terms of racial discrimination of the non-white players, with other avenues, like the media, taking part in increasing the rot in the league. Most infuriating is the show of total lack of commitment by the either state or the Spanish football governing body to combat the vice by legislation and also by prosecuting those guilty of these heinous acts against the non-white players. There is little improvement over the years of the situation in Spain, as compared to the progress seen in England and Italy. Until the government and the Spanish football body take this problem seriously, we should expect many of the abuses. Above all, racial discrimination in soccer is real and happening. It can reduce with the right effort and determination, if the respective authorities take the initiative, as is seen in England.

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Mar 10, 2019 in Research
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