The racism problem: From the stadium to prison?

The racism problem: From the stadium to prison?

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?

  • Also read: Our football and its fan (un)culture (OÖNplus)

“Was tolerated for decades”

“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,” he says German 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 then demanded via earn.”

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.

  • Also read: Harsh accusations from Vinicius: “The championship belongs to the racists today”

Solidarity after red card

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.

“Purely cosmetic initiatives”

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 denied this, his club Inter Milan defended him. But Juan Jesus, who has been playing in Italy for twelve years, sticks to his accusation. In protest, his club no longer wants to take part in the Italian association’s anti-discrimination measures. These are only “purely cosmetic initiatives,” said a Napoli statement.

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!”

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