As more and more Black soccer players face the bigoted taunts of European fans, soccer officials are scrambling to figure out how to end the hate.
Jozy Altidore (L) of AZ Alkmaar and Jeffrey Buitenhuis of Den Bosch battle for the ball during the KNVB Dutch Cup match. (Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Soccer has a problem, and this time it has nothing to do with low-scoring games or not being able to use their hands. This time it’s a racism problem.
Though racist soccer fans have been a problem for decades now, lately it seems as if things have reached a fevered pitch. Black American soccer player Jozy Altidore suffered monkey chants at a game in the Netherlands this week and, last October, Chelsea Football Club captain John Terry apologized for months earlier using racially charged language to insult a Black opposing player.
It’s become somewhat of a normal thing for fans across Europe — Italy, England, Russia — to throw banana peels at Black players during games. Things have gotten so bad that a CNN blogger dubbed the racism in soccer an “epidemic.”
What’s worse is that soccer officials seem to have no idea how to repair it. It’s impossible to wave a wand and make people not racist, of course, but the open and unabashed racism that exists around European soccer is relatively unheard of and seemingly intractable. Officials have tried everything from anti-racist PR campaigns to fines — of teams unable to control racist fans or players expressing racism — but that all has yet to curb the hate in any significant way.
One tack that might be effective for shutting down soccer racism is if players simply stop accepting it themselves. In one of the more bold moves against soccer racists, Black AC Milan player Kevin-Prince Boateng stopped mid-game in January, picked up the soccer ball, punted it into the stands toward a pack of racists screaming at him, and marched off the field. Boateng’s teammates followed him to the locker room, and officials called the game off. Later, AC Milan’s coach said his team would continue to leave the field if his players were forced to suffer racial abuse at the hands of fans. They’ve just decided they’re not going to tolerate it anymore.
It may initially hurt their pocketbooks and their chances at a championship, but if more players began following Boateng’s lead and simply refused to play when faced with bigoted insults, chances are the racism in soccer would decline (not disappear, mind you). If rabid soccer fans began to understand that racism and soccer cannot coexist, one has to think they will choose soccer — and shame out the racists attempting to poison the sport.
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