EURO 2012: Racism Can't Be Avoided in Soccer if It's In Society
11 months ago
Foreign Office warned ethnic minorities to “expect racist attacks" at this year's Euro Cup
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of Loop 21.
The British press is all up in arms over the potential for racist violence in Poland and Ukraine during this year’s Euro Cup. The Football Association (FA) has already expressed its worries with UEFA about the possibility of racial abuse towards England soccer players and fans. The Foreign Office has warned ethnic minorities to “expect racist attacks in Poland and Ukraine.” The families of black players Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have even bowed out from traveling to watch them compete, while former England player Sol Campbell has also warned fans to avoid the tournament for fear of “coming back in a coffin.”
And what is the proposed “solution” to this imminent problem at Euro 2012? To beef up security: hire more police and give them “anti-discrimination training,” and grant the referees “more powers to deal with incidents.” It amounts to treating the symptoms with a dose of criminalization, rather than dealing with the underlying causes of the seeming explosion of racism and xenophobia across Europe over the last decade.
True, Eastern Europe has not been a particularly hospitable place for black players. Spectators have thrown bananas at them, there have been attacks in the stands, and monkey chants and racial epithets have rung throughout stadiums in Poland, Serbia, Croatia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. Although Remi Adekoya (the son of a Nigerian father and Polish mother) agreed that Poland has a long way to go in overcoming racial discrimination, he assured Guardian readers, “I would still say fans from all ethnic backgrounds need not fear visiting Poland during the tournament.” Ukrainian footballers Andriy Shevchenko and Oleg Luzhny have made similar statements about the safety of their home country.
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This is not to dismiss the very real fears of those minority players and fans that plan to attend Euro 2012, but rather to question why this storyline has garnered so much press in Britain in the past few weeks. After all, the English Premier League has not been an anti-racist oasis of late. Recent incidents involving John Terry and Luis Suarez (right), along with the intense backlash against black players who dare to speak out against their experiences of discrimination on the pitch suggest that England (the United Kingdom and Western Europe more generally) is far from innocent when it comes to the persistence of racism in football.
As the eminent sociologist Paul Gilroy said 20 years ago “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack.” Just last year Prime Minister David Cameron declared multiculturalism a failure (Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel of Germany made similar comments), while a shared sense of white English exceptionalism has yet to be eradicated. These same politicians are rushing to declare the end of racism, even amidst increasingly strident calls for the closing of national borders to people of color and religious minorities, and for the preservation and reinvigoration of white nationalist cultures.