Uefa’s “zero-tolerance” to racism and a polluted Euro 2012

That the Euro 2012 is, thus far, a polluted tournament is not an understatement. There has been nothing on the pitch to rival the ugly scenes of violence, street fights and plenty of racial incidents. The pitch has served up mechanical football with teams employing rigid defensive formations that cancel out each other. There have been fewer “wow” moments. Most of the play has been bland with very little improvisation. So far, the Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Spain’s Cesc Fabregas have been stand -out performers – both having the nous to conjure up intricate magic to decide matches. Italy’s Andreas Pirlo and Luka Modric for Croatia have been a delight to behold. And for revelations – two right backs have shown great promise – Mathieu Debuchy for France and Theodor Gebre Selassie for the Czech Republic.

The niggling issue at hand is not the standard of play at Euro 2012 but the toxic racist acts perpetrated against Black players and the inaction of Uefa. It did not come with a great sense of shock when Uefa, Europe’s governing soccer body fined the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) a miniscule £65, 000 for its fans’ racial abuse of Italian forward, Mario Balotelli at a European Championship match against Italy in Poznan, on Thursday, 14th June, 2012. Very little indeed was expected from Uefa. This token punishment showed that its much-touted “zero-tolerance” to racism is more slogan than reality. This slap in the wrist of Croatia further tarnishes the already tattered image of Uefa and says a lot about its head – Michel Platini – a man widely touted as the successor of Sepp Blatter as head of FIFA.

The £65,000 fine, and others before it, is an insult to the Black people. Uefa is sending out a veiled message that racial abuse of Black players is fair game. The bigwigs of Uefa seem unconscious to the sensitivities associated with racial matters. It is because of the type of treatment that Black players are being subjected to at Euro 2012 that people of colour had to wage a sustained anti -racist war down through the centuries. There can be no argument that Black people have been treated unfairly throughout history; they have been subjected first to decades of slavery, and then decades of second-class citizenship, widespread legalised discrimination, economic persecution, education deprivation and cultural stigmatisation.

It is against this historical backdrop that the £64, 000 fine should be viewed. The charges against the Croatian Football Federation were related to “the setting-off and throwing of fireworks, and the improper conduct of supporters (racist chants, racist symbols)”. This racial incident presented Uefa with its first chance at Euro 2012 to send out a strong enough deterent message and a chance to redeem itself but, as expected-and very much true to form – the association lamentably failed to rise to the occasion.

The much bandied about “zero-tolerance” for any form of racism and discrimination policy of Uefa now lies in tatters and not worth the paper its written on. Uefa’s “zero-tolerance” policy against racism is in fact an outsourced programme – which goes to show its actual worth! Uefa executes this policy through partnerships with the players’ body FIFPro and Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network. The latter is a network comprising groups and bodies working against intolerance and discrimination across Europe and has since 2001 been funded by Uefa.

Apart from the deplorable fines that Uefa metes out, the other visible aspect of its “zero-tolerance” policy has largely been evidenced through teams wearing Unite Against Racism T-shirts and team captains wearing Unite Against Racism armbands. These slothful pokes at the Race issue by Uefa, laughable as they may be, can hardly be said to be serious attempts at fighting racism in football.

This lack of seriousness in tackling racism by Uefa manifested itself at the outset of Euro 2012. They attempted to cover up the “monkey chants” that had been directed at the Dutch black players during an open training session in Krakow, Poland by suggesting that the fans were merely voicing out their unhappiness at the city not being given any matches to host! Uefa only climbed down when Netherlands captain Mark Van Bommel, a white man, insisted that the “monkey chants” were audible enough for those who wanted to hear them!

So far, Czech Republic’s only black player, Theodor Gebre Selassie, who is of both Czech and Ethiopian descent, has already been a victim of “monkey chanting” when his country faced Russia. This hardly raised any ire from Uefa! It was business as usual. Selassie could not have walked out of the pitch in frustration at being racially taunted because Michel Platini, in an absurd piece of muscle-flexing, has warned that any Black player who walks out of the pitch will be yellow-carded!

Uefa’s slight innovation of its “zero tolerance” policy for Euro 2012, has been the alleged granting of powers to referees to take players off the pitch if they see or hear any evidence of racist abuse. This sounds good but Uefa has not issued guidelines of how they will approach stoppages of games. It is unknown as to how a referee will assess that there has been “enough” racism before stopping a game. It is not clear whether stopping a game means abandoning it or rescheduling it for some later date. Clearly the twaddle about giving referees powers to stop games is a public relations ploy to make Uefa look respectable against a backdrop of its persistent inaction in dealing with racial incidents in the past.

We remember Uefa’s manifestation of moral and ethical impotence when it fined the Spanish Football Federation £45, 000 for “monkey chants” directed at Black English players during a friendly international match at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu in November, 2004. Again, Uefa slapped the Serbian Football Federation with a £16, 500 fine in 2007 for spectator’s racist abuse of England’s young Black players at the Under-21 European Championships in Holland. It has always been fines without sweeping decisive action.

If Uefa abhorred racism, it could have thrown teams out of Euro 2012 and, before it, the Champions League. If these bans were long enough -covering subsequent tournaments – racism at European stadiums would be a thing of the past. This action would make associations and teams sit up. Weren’t English clubs banned in the past from Uefa competitions for hooliganism? Wasn’t this deterrent enough? Uefa knows what works – the most pesuasive options for sanctions are screaming out in Uefa’s face!!

The current token fines have over the years not deterred spectators from abusing players of colour. As recently as March, 2012 the black Italian player, Mario Balotelli was racially abused by FC Porto’s fans during a Europa League game. The punishment from Uefa was a paltry £16, 500 fine! This continued fining of racist organisations is a stark sign that Uefa is bereft of enough fortitude to fight racism in football.

Even when individuals have been clearly guilty of racially offending others, Uefa has not acted decisively to send out a strong message. In 2005 Luis Aragones, former coach of Spain was caught on camera telling former Arsenal forward, Jose Antonio Reyes: “You’re better than that black shit”, referring to Thierry Henry, Reyes’ then team-mate at Arsenal. The fine from the Spanish Federation, no doubt having taken its cue from Uefa, was a pitiful £1,900.

No action was taken when Oleg Blokhin, the Ukraine coach, uttered some astonishing racist drivel, in the buid-up to the 2006 World Cup, when he brayed: “Let them [fans] learn from Andriy Shevchenko or Blokhin, and not some Zumba-Bumba whom they took off a tree, gave him two bananas and now he plays in the League.” Not a fine! Not a reprimand! The deliberate lack of gumption by Uefa to put Blokhin in his place was not surprising.

What is vividly clear, although there is no evidence to validate the suspicion, is that there could be both individual and institutional complicity against players of African descent playing in Europe. This may be intentional or unintentional but it is a reflection of the entire culture and societal mindset. The over-riding argument being that the many Black players are hindering the development of young European talent from playing in the top teams and in their national teams.

Although discrimination is largely outlawed in Europe, the reality is that skin colour continues to be the main determinant in securing advantages such as housing, credit and even employment. It is a sad fact that, in Europe and much of the western world, Black people have lower incomes than whites; whites have a longer life-span than black people; the prison population tends to have disproportionately higher numbers of black people. “Black” neighbourhoods, where ever these are found in the western world, are saturated with crime, drugs, Aids and poor schooling. Because of this history of depravity, both blacks and whites are socialized to believe that the status quo is what is normal. Unconsciously, they seek to perpetuate this imbalance.

The undisputable fact is that Blacks and whites do not live in society on an equal footing. This reality is the same in footbalI where Black players, despite enjoying illustrious playing careers in the highest leagues of Europe, hardly ever rise to coach top division teams nor are they part of the corporate management of the top clubs and associations. The reason can largely be attributed to racism. As a result, Black football players do not see the worth in getting coaching qualifications when there is no hope that they will ever be given a chance to coach.

The corporate administrative set up in European football from Uefa down to clubs is that these are exclusively and essentially white-run organisations. They have an impenetrable culture and operate behind closed doors. Consequently, there exists a plantation system of authority even in football. Whites command a virtual monopoly on power and decision-making roles while the majority of Blacks populate the bottom in powerless production roles! This command structure has not changed for centuries! It may have undergone some modifications but it is replicated in all organisations in Europe, without exception!

This reality is what is behind the insulting fines that Uefa periodically continues to dish out. This deliberately slothful approach to fighting racism in football will not be changing any time soon as long as the current clique heading Uefa refuses to own up to its folly. It may be many decades from now when Uefa has a fresh crop of administrators from more open and diverse backgrounds who might be able to effect much needed change.

Uefa is at a crossroads and one way lies in reforming itself and growing sharp enough claws to uproot the racism cancer that blights European football. The other path is marked “We have always done it this way, baby!” NAF

Gilbert Phiri



Leave a Reply