MADRID (AP) – Hanging from a Madrid bridge, a bust of one of the world’s most famous black soccer players is a stark reminder of the racism that reigns in European soccer.
And it’s everywhere.
In Italy, where the sound of monkeys was heard during the goal celebration of a black player in April. In England, where hostile North London fans threw a banana peel at the feet of a black player after a penalty kick. In France, where black national team players were subjected to online racist abuse after their recent World Cup final loss.
But it also exists outside Europe.
In Australia, chants of monkeys and racist slogans were heard during the last cup final. In South America, during the Copa Libertadores, the region’s most important competition, was marred by howling monkeys. In North Africa, where players from sub-Saharan Africa have complained of racist chants by Arab fans
These performances are evidence of a deeper social problem, racism has been a problem that has been present in football for decades, but has been amplified by social networks and growing calls to condemn it. As recently as 11 years ago, Sepp Blatter, the then president of FIFA, denied racism in sport, saying that problems should be solved by shaking hands.
The black player who has been the target of one of the most perverse and brutal racist attacks is Brazilian striker Vinicius Júnior for Real Madrid.
It was Vinicius’ effigy that hung from a bridge near Madrid’s training ground in January. Two weeks ago, at a crucial event, Vinicius broke down in tears after confronting a fan who made monkey gestures in his direction.
It is Vinicius who has emerged as the strongest voice in the fight against racism, which continues to stain the world’s most popular sport.
He said on Twitter, ‘My life has a purpose. “And if I have to endure more so that future generations do not go through such circumstances, I am ready and willing.”
Vinicius’ biggest concern is that Spanish football officials are doing little to stop the abuse and have accepted racist abuse as part of football in the country where he has played since the age of 18.
Indeed, federations around the world have been slow to punish teams for racist behavior by their fans, despite being authorized by FIFA since 2013.
Fine? Yes, partial stadium closure? Ok, but more severe punishments like deduction of points, expulsion from tournament? They are generally reserved only for financial mismanagement and not racist abuse against players.
Anti-racist campaigns and slogans are welcome, but they are seen as mere symbolism, especially since the fines for racist abuse are just pitiful.
Experts believe the global outcry and support for Vinicius following the recent abuses could lead to a sea change in the fight against racism in Spain. It certainly had an impact in Brazil, with protests outside the Spanish consulate in São Paulo. Furthermore, the Spanish league seeks to increase its authority for sanctioning. So far the protocol has been to report incidents and send evidence to the courts.
Jaco van Sterkenbergh, professor of racial issues including football and the press at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, said that explicit racism is more acceptable in Spanish and southern European football culture than in England and the Netherlands. And former players have spoken openly on the subject.
“When you don’t take a strong stand against it as a federation and you don’t repeat the message over and over again, it will come back again,” Sterkenberg said.
While Jermaine Scott, assistant professor of history at Florida Atlantic University, told the AP that while explicit racism is not currently a problem in American sports, institutional racism is reflected in the lack of coaches and managers. Black, Aboriginal and other minority peoples. He believes that this institutionalized racism is also present in European football.
“As football has spread around the world, different cultures have embraced the game and instilled different values such as creativity and innovation. More importantly, happiness, and some would even say freedom,” Scott said.
“When a player like Vinnie Júnior plays in the classic Afro-Brazilian style with a samba celebration, he turns the value system of European football upside down,” he said.
Football needs external aid to fight racism and this is achieved through anti-discrimination campaigns such as Kick It Out in the UK and LICRA in France. Fair Network, a European group to fight discrimination in football, has kept secret observers at the most important sports in Europe to detect racist slogans and extremist symbols and banners.
It is common for fans to report racist incidents or post videos and photos on social media. This evidence has been used by the authorities to punish criminals.
The downside of the increased use of social media is that racist abuse has increased compared to previous generations, where it was largely confined to stadiums.
Now people can send insults anonymously from their phone by going straight to the best footballers on Instagram or Twitter.
A former world champion who played in Spain and experienced the same racism as Vinicius, believes increasing education and harsher punishments are key to eliminating racism.
“Racism is part of it, it is something that people are used to. It is something that is passed from generation to generation”, commented the player, who preferred not to be named because he Not authorized by his present employer to give interview.
He added, “We also can’t say that this is something that will get better over time, because decades ago it was the same and nothing has changed.”
Douglas reported from Sundsvall, Sweden.
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