Racism and violence still stain the beautiful game

  • Other Sport
  • Friday, 20 Feb 2015

People demonstrate as they hold a Nazi flag displaying a swastika at the stands of the Spartak Moscow supporters during the Russian Cup 1/16 soccer match finals between Shinnik Yaroslavl and Spartak Moscow in Yaroslavl, in this file photo taken on October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Vladimir Kutin

LONDON (Reuters) - The veneer of respectability covering modern European football was rolled back to expose the rot that still festers below this week, with high-profile incidents of racism and violence bringing chill reminders of the bad old days of the 1980s.

That there was widespread shock and revulsion at the sight of Chelsea fans chanting "We're racist and that's the way we like it" while preventing a black Frenchman boarding a carriage in the Paris Metro, is something of a positive in that such incidents, once widely prevalent, are now uncommon.

The condemnation from all sides that followed, with the club issuing three immediate banning orders and manager Jose Mourinho saying on Friday he was ashamed, are also indicative of how times have changed.

However, this was no one-off. Three years ago a group of Chelsea fans brought more shame on the club for making hissing noises during a match against Tottenham Hotspur, a repellent and once-common terrace gesture designed to replicate the Nazi gas chambers of the Holocaust and aimed at Spurs because of their traditionally strong Jewish following.

In 2013 Chelsea's Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun said he suffered anti-Semitic abuse from the club's own supporters.

While it is undoubtedly true that such incidents are no longer the norm and that stadiums are far safer, more pleasant environments these days, the idea that football has been cleansed of violence and racism and is the glossy family affair that the authorities and clubs love to promote is to wilfully ignore the evidence from countries all over the continent.

Also this week fans of visiting Dutch side Feyenoord fought with Italian riot police ahead of their Europa League match against AS Roma, leading to dozens of arrests and leaving parts of the city centre looking like a bomb site.

It is almost ironic that Italian authorities, with even the country's Prime Minister wading in, reacted with such shock given that their capital remains one of the most dangerous for foreign fans to visit, with attacks and stabbings in the surroundings of the Olympic Stadium almost commonplace.

Football violence has been high on the agenda in Spain too after the death of a Deportivo La Coruna fan before a game against Atletico Madrid in November and the stabbing of two Paris St Germain fans outside Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium in December.

Spanish authorities have attempted to make the clubs more responsible, introducing stadium closures and potential point deductions as well as sanctions for verbal abuse.

Swedish father of four Stefan Isaksson was another victim, kicked and beaten to death by rival fans as he made he way to a league match last year.


Dutch and Russian football has been plagued by domestic football violence for decades, but much of it now has been shifted to out-of-sight venues such as industrial estates and woodland, where fans meet for pre-arranged fights away from the gaze of the police, often filmed to become internet hits.

In Germany last week a group of Cologne "ultras" wearing white medical overalls lit flares and fireworks before storming the pitch after their game at regional rivals Borussia Moenchengladbach, prompting calls from the German football association (DFB) to consider the option of banning away fans.

France is currently having problems with Corsica-based club Bastia and in December visiting Nantes player Paul Georges Ntep refused to take a corner kick as he was being racially abused by fans.

The countries of what was once Yugoslavia also remain hotbeds for racism, with Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia plagued with abusive ethnic slurs and chants.

Last year Croatia's Australia-born defender Josip Simunic was handed a 10-match ban that ruled him out of the World Cup after shouting a pro-Nazi chant to fans at an international match.

The latest incident in Paris moved the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner to issue a statement on Friday, clearly recognising that it was no one-off.

"The events in Paris show that much work remains to be done before racism is truly eradicated from sport, let alone from society at large," the statement said.

(Editing by Justin Palmer)

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3

Across the site