Perhaps it seems the natural response of many a supporter, when confronted by the appalling footage of Chelsea fans hurling racial abuse at a black man while preventing him from boarding a train, to leap forward to condemn the individuals with the caveat that “not all Chelsea fans are like that.”
While being true, this somewhat misses the point. As long as this incident is pigeon holed and treated as isolated we close our eyes to the issue of racism still prevalent throughout today’s game. It is imperative we see the issue not only in the context of football now, but how such a myopic reaction plays into a tradition of ignoring the problem.
From the Scottish Lowland League, where large group of footballers deemed it acceptable to black up, to the heady heights of the Premier League, where chanting “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz, Hitler’s gonna gas ’em again!” have been recorded and the y-word is considered by some part of a ‘cultural heritage,’ racism is not only prevalent but in front of our very eyes.
In the past week alone the former Italy manager Arrigo Sacchi suggested that Italy was “losing [their] national pride and identity” because their are “too many black players” at youth level and Malky Mackay has been appointed manager at Wigan despite being investigated by the FA for a plethora of anti-semetic, racist, homophobic and sexist text messages.
In their response, a Chelsea spokesman announced the fans’ actions has “no place in football or society.” Perhaps a statement saying that their barbarism “should have no place in football or society” would have been apt. Football’s war on racism is global, and it is a battle that is clearly far from won.
Comparatively, things have improved in the UK since the abhorrent behaviour that was all too common in the 1970s and 80s. Equally, incidences of abuse are far less prevalent than in countries like Italy, Russia or, arguably, France today. Statistics show that of just 1,599 people that were arrested last season, only 9 of those were for racist chanting.
Yet perhaps an over-reliance on such statistical measurement once more belittles the problem. After all, an arrest is not a conviction and the distinction between ‘indecent’ and ‘racist’ chanting has the ability to skew figures. Even more significantly, not every perpetrator will be arrested.
Is British football now dealing with a mutated strains of the original problem in shocked silence and complacency?
Fans have been quick to denounce such heinous behaviour after it emerged but the sorry truth is that so far there has been no footage to suggest that any fans in the packed carriage acted to confront those claiming to be “racist and proud.” A 2013 survey conducted by YOUGOV suggests that only 43% of British fans poll believe that racism is a “serious problem.” British football may have improved, but this is no excuse for fans and clubs alike to rest on their laurels.
So, what is the solution, if there even is one, ensure that racism is forever kicked out of football? Perhaps the answer lies in a multidimensional, double pronged approach to tackle a societal problem on both an institutional and personal level.
FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb has argued that institutionalised prejudice exists in the upper echelons of the football community, manifesting itself in the tiny proportion of board members and executives at the FA and UEFA. Suggesting that the meagre number of managers of colour currently employed in the football League is illustrative of the issue, the PFA’s Taylor has called for the Rooney Rule to be implemented to ensure discrimination is combatted in the boardroom as much as on the pitch.
However, in the words of The Telegraph’s Henry Winter, “Society’s bile often spills out through football’s febrile world.” Supporting a football club that employs any minority doesn’t automatically mean you are beyond prejudice. It is imperative that the issue of racism in football is addressed in the stands by those in the seats around them.
Lilian Thuram, France’s most capped player, argues that “the action of not saying anything – somehow […] makes you an accomplice.” Not all Chelsea fans are like those at Richelieu-Drouot station. However, while a minority exists who proudly hold an attitude so out catastrophically of touch with today’s ideals, it is the duty of those who love football and the equality it ought to stand for to speak out.