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Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Fight Against Racism Lacks Punch

The Fight Against Racism Lacks Punch

During one of my frequent visits to one of the many websites dealing in transfer rumours and speculation (in my defence it’s the close season and I’m bored) I began to wonder, what was the most outlandish rumour that I’d come across during this, the silliest of silly seasons? A few came to mind, Eto’o to Spurs, Thiago Alcantara to Bolton, there are of course many, many more. However one rumour, through its sheer implausibility, stood out amongst all others. Emmanuel Adebayor was reported to be a transfer target for Russian giants Zenit St Petersburgh. On the face of it this is a move that would make sense, Zenit, backed by the Russian oil giant Gazprom, are one of the few clubs in Europe with the means to provide a financial package that would appeal to both the former Togolese captain and his current club, Manchester City. A spell at Zenit would also give Adebayor the chance to add to his medal collection, something the player has said is key to any future move. The reason this potential transfer is so unlikely though has nothing to do with football, the problem is the colour of Adebayors skin.

During Dick Advocaat’s successful spell in charge of Zenit he claimed that he would like to sign a black player but that it was not possible. The clubs most fanatical supporters (the Ultras) would not accept it. This group of supporters have a huge influence over the policies of their club, to a level beyond anything we have ever witnessed in this country. I should point out that Zenit say that Advocaats quotes were misrepresented and current manager Luciano Spalletti claims he is free to sign whomever he wishes, irrespective of race, meanwhile, the Zenit line-up remains exclusively white.

Awareness in this country, of the overt racism of many involved in Russian football, has increased recently, this can mainly be attributed to the reporting of a couple of high profile incidents. The move of the half Nigerian, half Russian striker Peter Odemwinge to West Brom, from Locomotive Moscow was celebrated by the Locomotive Ultras with a banner thanking the English club, accompanied by the image of a banana. Incidentally come the end of the season it was the baggies fans who had cause to thank their Locomotive counterparts, after a sparkling debut campaign from Odemwingie helped West Brom to the (relatively) dizzy heights of a mid-table finish. They say ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ and the look of incredulity, mixed with rage, on the face of the great Brazilian Roberto Carlos as he was racially abused for the second time during his stint at Anzhi Makhachkala, illustrates the horrifying nature of the racism problem which blights Russian football far more eloquently than the range of my vocabulary permits. The site of one of the most iconic footballers of his generation, an utter tank of a man, so visibly affected by the words and actions of these pathetic cowards is one of the most upsetting I have seen in football.

The Russian Football Union has handed out fines to some of those involved, it has also promised tougher sanctions for anyone found guilty of racially aggravated crimes. However a financial penalty of roughly £30,000 is of no real consequence to the oligarchs who provide the financial muscle of clubs such as Zenit. And the chances of these proposed further sanctions including something potentially effective, such as a points deduction are slim. Herein lies a large part of the problem when it comes to dealing with the racists, individual national associations, all throughout football, are unwilling to enforce the kind of punishments that would dissuade the continuation of such behaviour. The large clubs, in all countries, hold too much sway within the corridors of power of their respective associations. The ramifications of enforcing a level of punishment actually relative to the crime of racism are too great for any organisation that relies on the co-operation of its member clubs, for its day to day operations.  It’s much easier to hand out token fines, and release “plans of action”, which are in practical terms only one step up from attempting to sweep the problem under the carpet.

Logically as football fans we should look to our governing body to lead the fight against racism. FIFA, however say they are not willing to interfere with the disciplinary processes of national associations. This by the way is the same FIFA who are happy to interfere with a countries tax laws to suit their needs when they bring their World Cup roadshow swinging into town! Anyway would you trust FIFA to administer the appropriate sanctions? The £40,000 and £15,000 fines handed out to Spain and Croatia respectively, after racist abuse of English players suggests not. To entrust FIFA with a task as vital to the wellbeing of our game as eradicating racism, would be to desecrate the wonderful work (not to mention the personal sacrifice) of many individuals and institutions involved in this field over the years. FIFA claim to abhor racism, yet through their paltry fines and the awarding of the World Cup to Russia, without any genuine guarantees regarding the eradication of the racist behaviour already discussed, their words are not matched by their actions.
To my mind the only way to ensure the application of appropriate sanctions is the formation of an international body, independent of FIFA, with the remit of monitoring all forms of discriminatory behaviour in football, and the means to enforce a punishment they see fit. For example, if a clubs support is found guilty of racist chanting, this new body could then impose a fine on that club, equal to their average home gate receipt or a set percentage of their turnover/wage bill. This would ensure that the sanctions meted out are much closer to being equally punitive, regardless of the financial clout of the club. There would also be the option of closing stadiums, hefty points deductions and the ability to withdraw licenses required to take part in non-domestic competitions.
This is the level of punishment that I believe necessary to at least begin to eradicate the cancer of racism from our game. Only a truly independent body, made up of people with experience of the campaign against racism, and respected figures from the world of football, working without the limitations of national boundaries, can be trusted to impose these long overdue sanctions.
Racism is still a relevant problem in football, and unless we begin to think outside the box in terms of tackling it, we will be guilty of allowing this affliction to fester indefinitely, therefore doing irreparable damage to the game we all love so much.
Would really like your feedback on this. Do you think we can rid football of racism? Is the idea of an independent body workable? Leave a comment at the bottom of this page or get in contact via twitter, I’d love to hear from you. 

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