Will It Ever Be Possible To Eliminate Racism In Soccer?
The soccer world has been dotting headlines in the last few weeks with racist fans using public transportation, former managers bemoaning the number of black players in the Italian youth system and violence during Africa's Cup of Nations tournament.
Let's start with the Cup of Nations. During the semi-final between Ghana and Equatorial Guinea, there was some rioting and many — including FIFA President Sepp Blatter — believed the coverage was dramatized.
Blatter claimed the media only focuses on the bad in football.
"Good news is no news. Bad news is news."
In some ways, he's right. It wasn't a pretty scene. The game was halted for 30 minutes, violence spilled out into the surrounding areas and a police helicopter was called in.
Yet, terms like “war zone” were tossed around during coverage, and that's a bit dramatic, given the situation at hand.
However, considering the game was halted and a helicopter was brought in to disperse the crowd, it's no surprise that it was reported and people reacted negatively to it.
Could you imagine that happening during the AFC or NFC Championship game?
Beyond the violence in Africa's Cup of Nations, former Milan and Italy manager, Arrigo Sacchi, had this to say about Italy's developing soccer youth:
"Italy now has no dignity or pride, because we have too many foreigners playing in the under-20 leagues. In our youth sectors there are too many blacks."
This is just 27 months after Mario Balotelli made groundbreaking goals for Italy.
Let that sink in for a second and then, consider this: Sacchi defended himself by saying he isn't a racist because he signed Frank Rijkaard back in the day, and they were totally cool. That excuse is so 1990s, Arrigo.
Moving farther north, England has had quite a week when it comes to marginalizing minorities in public places.
Let's start in Paris, where some Chelsea fans decided to practice segregation in the public transit system.
They refused a black man entry onto the train, kicking and pushing him when he tried to get into the packed car. They then proceeded to belt out this lovely ditty:
"We're racist, we're racist and that's the way we like it, we like it, we like it."
Chelsea's officials acted pretty swiftly, denouncing the behavior, promising to find the men involved in the incident and threatening to ban them from Chelsea home games at Stamford Bridge for life.
Once the news of the Chelsea event went viral, more racist incidents were reported in England.
West Ham fans were recorded singing an anti-Semitic song on the train heading to a West Ham vs. Tottenham game.
This is a shame, considering another group of West Ham fans came up with this video in response to the Chelsea incident.
Then, two more fans were arrested during a Brighton vs. Birmingham game this weekend for racist chants and throwing a smoke bomb onto the pitch.
All of this happened in the month of February, with most events happening just within the last week.
However, amidst all the negative headlines, there are some soccer fans trying to shed a positive light on the league.
Kick It Out is an organization focused on creating equality in soccer around the world. They want people to feel safe reporting incidents of racism as they happen.
In the past, people would not come forward, but now, with the ability to record things as they happen with their phones, Kick It Out might be in a better position to eradicate, or at least greatly diminish, the hatred within the sport.
Is it possible to completely eliminate racism in soccer? Is it possible to create penalties harsh enough to at least make bigots keep their views to themselves? Or, does the mob mentality reign supreme, like on the train in Paris?
Personally, I think it's nearly impossible to totally eliminate racism in soccer. Soccer, at its competitive core, draws territorial lines.
Whether it's local rivalries, like Manchester City and Manchester United, or religious ones, like Celtics and Rangers, soccer is so firmly rooted in place, and those places differ extremely.
Arrigio Sacchi says he isn't a racist; he just doesn't like the color of his country's youth. Someone get that man a dictionary.
Chelsea fans wouldn't allow a random black man on the subway, but if it were Didier Drogba, they would have given up their spot for him.
Many stadiums physically separate the home and away teams, not just with security guards, but with tall fences.
They even let the away fans out only after the home fans have emptied the stadium. It appears soccer harbors an Us vs. Them mentality.
That's the disconcerting part about what we've seen in the past week. If we start to look for the Us vs. Them, it starts popping up, just like when you learn a new word and suddenly, everyone is using it.
On the bright side, we now have a larger population willing to report these events and it's possible to do so in a more anonymous manner than before. Then, those being charged with the indiscretion are caught in the act.
While racism is still a problem in soccer, it is slowly improving. More people are willing to record footage of racist acts, and organized groups, like Kick It Out, are educating people about the reality of racism in soccer.
The hope has to be that over time, the majority makes the minority think twice about what they are doing. Hopefully, this past week is the first step in that process.