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From the stadium to prison?: The racism problem in football

From the stadium to prison?: The racism problem in football

Recent incidents in Spain and Italy show that racism in football stadiums is a growing problem. The associations are alarmed about the European Championships. But are their initiatives still enough?

The European Football Championship starts in Germany in two and a half months. And one problem of this sport, which actually brings people together, is increasingly troubling the associations: the increasing racism in European stadiums.

The German Football Association (DFB) started an anti-racism project for its home European Championship in March. The world association FIFA wants to pass a corresponding resolution of all 211 member states at its congress in Bangkok in May.

The only question is: Is symbolic politics alone still enough in view of the scenes that have accumulated in recent weeks, especially in Italy and Spain? Or are other measures needed, such as harsher penalties and quicker game abandonments, if football wants to sustainably combat racist incidents?

Racism researchers: More sensitive punishments could help

“What we see with football is not only a problem for society as a whole, but also has to do with football itself: because in this social place nothing has been done against racism for far too long, it has been tolerated for decades, almost normalized,” says racism -Researcher Lorenz Narku Laing from the Evangelical University of Bochum. More severe penalties could help, he says: “We actually have to think about whether games should be canceled and judged to the detriment of the racist fan blocks.”

Real Madrid’s star Brazilian striker Vinicius Junior burst into tears last week when asked about racism at his national team’s press conference. On the Easter weekend, the 23-year-old demanded via Space they deserve.”

Vinicius has often been the victim of racist hostility – in the stadium and beyond. In 2021, a black doll with one of the striker’s jerseys dangled from a bridge in Madrid – hung as if on a gallows.

However, researcher Laing is not convinced about stadium bans or even prison sentences for individual perpetrators. “My dream is actually that a man who makes a racist insult in the corner will be told by those around him that it’s not possible. Then the case should be reported and this person should be offered a seminar on the subject of racism by the sports association so that he can… really understand for yourself what that means, how much it hurts people.”

The choice ultimately has to be: stadium ban or seminar. “It’s not just about expulsions, more police in stadiums and bans, but it’s about more empathy, more fairness, more togetherness, forgiveness and actually an emotionally personal learning journey for the people who behave wrongly,” says Laing.

Are the perpetrators willing to do this? At least in Spain’s fourth division, the players recently set an example: The goalkeeper of the Madrid suburban club Rayo Majadahonda was allegedly racially insulted by a spectator, attacked him and was shown a red card. In solidarity with the Senegalese Cheikh Kane Sarr, his teammates left the field with him.

In the Italian Serie A, things went exactly the other way around in January. AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan left the pitch after Udinese Calcio fans shouted racist chants at him. The game was interrupted, but not stopped: his own teammates persuaded the Frenchman in the hallway to continue. “The mentality was often that the footballer on the pitch has to be tough, he is a highly paid professional,” explains Laing.

There is a “new sensitivity in society that racism is wrong, even when it happens to millionaires.” But this awareness is often still lacking in football. “It’s a problem that football hasn’t yet managed to understand racism as its own problem. Either you distance yourself from it because you say that it happens in the heat of the moment. Or you distance yourself from it because you “It’s delegated to the judiciary, to the police, to the lawyers,” explains Laing.

Three-step plan not enough?

Just last week, Italian international Francesco Acerbi was acquitted by a sports court. He is said to have racially insulted the Brazilian Juan Jesus from SSC Napoli. Acerbi denies this, his club Inter Milan defends him. But Juan Jesus, who has been playing in Italy for twelve years, sticks to his accusation. “I am really disheartened by the outcome of this serious matter,” said the 32-year-old about the sports court ruling.

In protest, his club from Naples no longer wants to take part in the Italian association’s anti-discrimination measures. These are only “purely cosmetic initiatives,” according to a statement from the club. “These campaigns are of course an attempt for sport to show a clear attitude. And attitude is important, but not everything,” says Laing.

But what should football do instead? Back in 2011, the European football association UEFA introduced a three-step plan that could lead to the game being abandoned in the event of racist incidents in a stadium. First step: stop the game. Second step: send players to the locker room temporarily. Third step: cancel.

But that apparently no longer goes far enough even for the controversial FIFA boss Gianni Infantino. “The problem is that we have different competitions, different competition organizers, different rules. And everything we do is obviously no longer enough,” said the world association president at a UEFA congress in February. Infantino wants to make the fight against racism an issue in Bangkok in May: “We need a strong resolution. Everyone together. All 211 FIFA countries!”

Source: Stern

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