In a recent European Championship qualifying game, England thrashed Bulgaria 6-0. Sadly, though this is not what the match will be remembered for. It will rather be remembered for the game twice being stopped because English players were subject to racist abuse by a section of Bulgarian fans. Some English players before the match had said that if there were any incidents that the team was willing to either not go out or walk off the field. While the English team fell short of those two measures, they did delay the start of the game and the game also had to be stopped because of the abuse continuing. That section of the stadium was eventually cleared out and England won the game handsomely.
Some pundits have said in the media that the English coach Gareth Southgate and his team missed an opportunity by not making a stronger statement and leaving the field. I, however, have a different view. I applaud the team for having the courage to delay the game twice until they felt ready to continue. I think that the team had qualifying in mind and that is perhaps the reason they did not walk off the pitch, in fear that they would be penalized points and put qualification in jeopardy. I think from that standpoint they approached the situation correctly and had they already qualified I believe they would have walked off the field. I’m glad that footballers are taking it amongst themselves to take a stand against this behavior that ruins the beautiful game and I think that their actions will lead to more statements and stronger statements by players the world over.
EUFA has a 3-step protocol for events such as this and it was supposedly used at the match. The first step of the protocol is to stop the match and make an announcement to the fans to stop the discriminatory behavior.
The second step is to remove the players from the field if the announcement is not adhered to.
The final step is to abandon the match if the behavior continues or starts up again.
My question though is why 3 steps? Why do racists have three chances to get it right? In any other profession or sphere of life, racist abuse would not be tolerated and depending on where you are you might get hurt or sued for engaging in such behavior. Certainly, if it happened at your job the perpetrator would be fired. So why do hooligans get 3 chances? In my opinion, if the behavior is clear enough for players not to want to take the field or stop the game then that match should be abandoned, and the points given to the opposing team. Only until football federations take a stronger stance against this disgusting behavior will we make real progress in the fight to kick racism out of football. If you’ve read my previous articles on the subject, you will know my stance and how severe I think the punishments need to be to get this behavior out of the sport I love to watch. It’s sad that players themselves now have to take a stand but it’s come to that now and I hope that what the English team did the other day will be the straw that broke the camels back and that more players, teams and coaches will take a similar approach.
I hope that we can educate young fans that are seeing this and show them that this kind of behavior is not to be tolerated and that they have the power to change the world. The answer is and always has been education. The more people we can educate about racism the less racist people we will have in the world.
UEFA has seen fit to punish Italian club Lazio with a partial stadium closure for a Europa League game. They have also given them a suspended stadium closure sentence for one year. Meaning that if they are found guilty within that year that they will have to play 1 match behind closed doors. While I applaud them for a step in the right direction, I also think that the punishment is not severe enough. Lazio, on the other hand, has appealed, not to the guilty verdict but the severity of the punishment. I think that is a disgrace by them. And what they are saying is okay our fans were racist, but we think we should get away with a lesser punishment. As I’ve said, in my view that punishment is nowhere near enough so I think Lazio should take their medicine and get their fans in line or suffer whatever punishment deemed appropriate!