Racism in European football again reared its virulent specter on Tuesday night in Krusevac, Serbia during a match between the Balkan nation and England’s U21 sides. Meeting for a qualifying match for next summer’s European Championships, torrents of jeers and monkey chants reverberated across the Stadion Mladost’s terraces. After the final whistle, English left back, Danny Rose, responded to the racist abuse he and his fellow black teammates received throughout the match by ironically clapping to Serbian supporters, kicking a football into the stands, and mimicking an ape as he walked towards the player’s tunnel. This latest event not only highlights the persistence of a strong racist vein in European football, but to a greater extent underscores the continued apathy of European football’s governing body, UEFA, to respond to instances of racism with anything more than anemic monetary punishments and short-term stadium bans.
After Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner exposed an illicit advertisement in his boxer shorts while celebrating a goal at this summer’s European Championships, he received a €100,000 fine. After Serbian fans racially abused English center half Nedum Onuoha at the U21 European Championships in 2007, the Serbian Football Association faced a paltry penalty of less than €20,000. Ironically, this latest incident Tuesday night occurred a week before FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) Week, a UEFA-sponsored event seeking to stamp racism in UEFA’s competitions.
Unfortunately, UEFA has not reacted proactively to instances of racial abuse. Small fines are collected, supporters are banned from attending a few home games, and the incidents are written off as singular, regretful events. On UEFA.com’s official website, the match report for Tuesday England vs. Serbia game recorded no instance of racist abuse, only acknowledging Danny Rose, after provocation, received a red card for the incident.
Michel Platini and the UEFA staff purvey a willfully absentminded party line. Prior to this summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, Platini and many prominent UEFA executives refused to respond to accusations of racism and neo-fascism amongst certain populations of supporters within the two host nations in any genuine or meaningful manner. As Dutch players trained prior to their first match in Lodz, Poland, Polish fans greeted Holland’s black players with monkey noises and jeers. These incidents, however widely reported and documented, were seen as occurring from minority segments of supporters, despite enormous evidence to the contrary.
Racism in football does not remain cloistered to the former Iron Curtain. Instead, two high-profile incidents in England, one involving England’s then captain John Terry, and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, showcased racism as capable of existing at the highest echelons. In every major league, factions of supporters continue to spew hate from the stands, and in cases like Italy’s SS Lazio, unveil anti-Semitic banners in their stadiums without fear of reprimand. The UEFA, which often refuses to enter into protracted arguments with the football associations of these racism-plagued European leagues, remains on the sidelines instead of proactively changing the game.
The UEFA’s indifference enables racist abuse, either from footballers or their supporters in the stands, to persist. Competition restrictions should follow for Serbia, as well as Terry and Suarez. Strict and consistent punishments should not only be discussed, but also implemented. Enough with the FARE Week and the pre-match walkouts under placards abhorring racism in all its forms. The UEFA must use its significant resources to facilitate actual and meaningful policy to make racism in football just as antiquated as the passback rule. Unfortunately as past events illuminate, the UEFA’s silence in regards to Tuesday’s match in Kruseveac will most certainly be resoundingly deafening.