5 months have passed since FIFA disbanded its anti-racism task force – on the basis that its ‘mission’ had been fully completed. You would assume that combating one of the biggest epidemics in football would require more than 3 years of work, and yet, here we are. If only it was that simple. Only last week, Partizan Belgrade player Everton Luiz left the field in tears after being subjected to 90 minutes of racial abuse. The incident does more than just show how in denial FIFA were about the success of their task force – but instead shows how poorly the issue of racism is handled in football. Surely, we must question for the priorities of some people when a pie-eating altercation in an FA cup tie is investigated with more enthusiasm than an incident of racial abuse?
Attempting to understand how such a difficult task as combating racism could have been achieved in as little as three years is one issue. The other, more poignant issue is what exactly did the task force set out to achieve? The complexity of how racism appears in football should mean that the task force’s job would be ever changing and ongoing – and with a World Cup in Russia just around the corner, it would seem a bizarre time to call it quits. A study by Opta showed that during the 2014/15 season 92 counts of racial abuse were observed in Russia – compared to 83 in the previous two seasons combined.
To say that football has taken credible strides in combating racism in the game acts more as a confession of guilt than something to be celebrated. Football’s organising bodies have been faced with this issue for decades and the fact that this is still a discussion today shows their failures. Beyond just Russia, domestic football associations across Europe have been condemned for their lack of understanding and action against racism. The emergence of anti-racism organisations does much of the work in fighting against it, but will continue to fight a losing battle when the implementation of punishment misses the target. You only have to look at how acts of racism are punished compared to that of other incidents within the game to realise how nonsensical it all is. Denmark striker Nicholas Bendtner was charged £80,000 after he revealed a brand logo on his boxer shorts and yet FC Porto were only charged £14,000 after their fans racially abused an opponent – both punishments handed out by UEFA.
Seldom has racism within the sport been dealt with correctly – but what can you expect when there seems to be a total lack of cohesion between those fighting the cause? Britain’s Kick It Out have campaigned, since their inception in 1993, against all forms of abuse in the game and work closely with the FA – yet, per the Guardian, they received 0.0004% of the Premier League’s television income, despite recording an increase of 77 racial abuse cases from the past season. Lest we forget, how poorly the FA dealt with John Terry’s racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand – delaying a decision for the case allowing Terry to take part in Euro 2012 with England. His subsequent £220,000 fine and four-match ban did little to appease those who were shocked by the FA’s treatment of the situation. Fast forward to present day and the time it took for the FA to begin investigating the matter seems all the more unbelievable compared to how quick they were to announce the investigation of Sutton United’s Wayne Shaw – after it seemed his pie eating incident was linked to a betting scandal. It’s examples such as this that highlight the consistent failures in treating racism with the severity it deserves.
The appearance of racial abuse is not what it was in the 70s but that should not deter from the fact it is being chronically mistreated and misunderstood. Everton Luiz’s treatment should be wholeheartedly condemned – but by who? With FIFA’s now disbanded anti-racism task force fulfilling all of its missions, any acts of racism are now beyond the remit of the most powerful footballing organisation. There should be no expiry date on a group attempting to combat an issue that is so ingrained in society that it is manifest within a sport. ‘There is no racism… the one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands’. Words spoken by former FIFA president Sepp Blatter only further outline the disparity between how racism is handled and how it should be handled – and until governing bodies within the game realise that combating racism has no end goal other than total eradication then maybe we will see a sport that sooner investigates bigotry over gluttony.
Image sources: Goal.com, CBS NEWS, The Telegraph