“I had two stones hit me in the head when I went to get the ball for a throw-in. Every time I touched the ball I heard monkey chants.”
These are Danny Rose’s comments after being sent off for reacting against the constant abuse he’d been subjected to during the recent Serbia vs. England under twenty-ones match. The words speak for themselves, and make it clear to any tolerant human being that enough is enough. After years of minor punishments, the international football authorities must crack down hard on racial abuse and the organisations which allow it to carry on. The kind of senseless filth that rained down from the stands throughout the Serbia game has no place in the modern game, wherever it’s played.
To make things worse, the Serbian FA has since issued a statement to say that it “absolutely refuses and denies that there were any occurrences of racism”, and that the match apparently occurred in a “sports atmosphere full of respecting fair play spirit”. This staggering declaration was made despite the ready availability of conclusive proof online, in a video which clearly shows the home fans directing monkey noises at black England players. With these sickening scenes reportedly accompanied by missile-throwing that included a chair being flung at Stuart Pearce, the reaction of the Serbian authorities seems to be mired in self-delusion.
Though Serbia’s stubborn negation of the facts is extremely troubling for any team who travels there with black players, UEFA’s record in this area is much more concerning. The punishments handed out by the ruling body of European football, a supposed bastion for enlightened values, in response to incidents of racism in recent years have been farcically lenient. After black England players were targeted in another U-21 match against Serbia in 2007, with abuse from the stands and on the pitch, the Serbian FA was fined £16,500.
This is a shockingly low figure in the world of football, and one which makes only the feeblest gesture at ending discrimination.However, it is unfortunately largely representative of UEFA’s policy. Racist conduct by Croatian fans during a Euro 2008 quarter-final with Turkey led to an inconsequential £10,000 fine, and the situation did not improve between tournaments. Chants from Spanish and Russian fans during Euro 2012 which targeted black players led to their football federations being forced to pay £16,137 and £24,203 respectively.
By approaching discrimination in this way, UEFA is actually damaging football’s fight against racism, portraying it as a minor issue that deserves only a slap on the wrists. If Michel Platini is serious about eliminating prejudice from the game, he has to make tough decisions that back up those ideals. A tiny fine has no merit, and has clearly not encouraged the Serbian FA over the last five years to put an end to racist fan behaviour. Instead, the national team must be suspended, or forced to play without its fans until genuine steps have been taken to resolve the issue. If this standard is applied to all international sides, then racism may foreseeably cease to exist as an issue in the global arena. When UEFA next convenes on November 22nd and discusses the events which took place in Krusevac on Tuesday, they need to show that they recognise the importance of ending racism.