Racist Football and Farcical Finalists!

4th of July was celebrated as Italian Victory day here with red, white and green all around in big honking cars, loaded with obscene shouting fans. NYPD police watched in silence by the road sides as long chain of cars went on breaking all possible traffic rules one after the other. Some people on the sidewalks might have cursed them for forgetting the 4th of July as an American day. Yet most anyway thought they were more Europeans that day than European-Americans. So the whistling continued; the sloganeering and even blocking the streets.

One would guess it was celebration time. But somehow deep inside, I was terrified by the look of it. What would have happened if as many Asians people would have blocked the road like this and shouted ‘Dil Dil Pakistan” for its Cricket match victory over India? Or blacks of America would have protested by blocking roads for one reason or the other, among so many? Would they not have been all locked up for traffic violations? Or for criminal misconduct? I am sure either of these would have been the fate. But for thousands of unruly Italians or pseudo-Italians on the rampage, not even their licenses were checked that day! Heads popping out of the windows of vans, most standing atop roofless trucks. Groups of people ecstatic to the point of sheer madness. After hours of honking and endless noises, I don’t know when the fans must have retreated. White Power?

To me, it seemed as cheap and as outlandish as the whole drama of Football world cup. Like most games today, Football in the age of globalization has become just another get-rich game involving criminal frauds, and outright racism. These need to be visited for serious appraisal, lest we all merely end up chanting yet another corporate theme song for football hooligans.

The famed frauds:

The Italian football federation prosecutor has finally called for the relegation of Italian clubs AC Milan, Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina for their involvement in the match-fixing scandal.

This is the country that has now gone to the finals, possibly to win! Hosting all major football clubs in the world, Italy sits pretty at the Mafia position of world soccer. The only difference is this time, even bigger crimes are being conducted. Prosecutor Stefano Palazzi has already charged a total of 30 “subjects” for a range of illegalities. Thirty? Yes.

It started in May this year when Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi was heard telling referees chief Pierluigi Pairetto over phone about which match officials he wanted assigned to certain games! Yeah it stinks as bad as this. And the worst?

Thirteen of Italy’s 23-man World Cup squad play for the four clubs that are under scrutiny. That’s more than half of Italian world cup team! So now we know how they won? Well, let’s ask the Germans. No better than their Italian frauds, earlier last year, German referee Robert Hoyzer had already admitted to match-fixing charges.

So one fixes the win, and the other fixes the loss. And the audience worldover are thrilled to television reality shows on the stadium!

In shame, Italian football federation (FIGC) president Franco Carraro and vice-president Innocenzo Mazzini had already resigned in May because they along with Juventus chairman Antonio Giraudo, are among those under formal investigation. And only last week, on June 23rd, Italian football league president Adriano Galliani, the vice president of AC Milan, has finally tendered his resignation.

In a conversation in May this year, with Italian sport journalist Giancarlo Galavotti, BBC Sport had interesting findings. Galavotti compared Italian soccer regime with Fascism, and said “People would not admit to being fascist, but they were concealing or pretending that they never were, switching sides with alarming ease. There are plenty who are saying that nothing has been proven and nobody has been indicted of anything yet. But the gut feeling among the vast majority of Italians is that this is scandal the likes of which there hasn’t been before, at least in European football.”

Fascists? Oh yeah, you realize when you hear their slogans in uptown New York. But what does the Italian coach think?

Following the 2-0 triumph over the hosts, Italian coach Marcello Lippi said the match fixing scandal had actually helped bring the team together! “Certainly, initially, all the confusion that came out two or three months ago created a desire and a determination to respond and show that Italian football is effective, real and strong on a technical and moral level. It helped to create a tight group.” said Lippi. The critical question here is if technical and moral level ever lacked in the team back then?

Not only committing frauds, but also justifying them comes easy to Lippi. Why the trial of the conmen have been scheduled to be held only after the world cup final is over: they do not want to upset the playing team while the tournament is on. But it is also not a very bad guess to presume that the accused will be let go scot-free once Italy wins the fixed world cup too. If Italians can behave in a foreign land like insane hooligans on the loose, one can imagine how the final results will have them, resulting in complete chaos around the judgments! Amidst all apprehensions, what should not escape our attention at this point or future is that match fixings (referee assignments!) are being done by club managers who own half of Italian playing team squad… Someone has to take responsibility? How about first finishing investigations and then only let the millionaires play with each other, if anyone is still left?

The Racists:

In some specific games, while clearing the football fields after the euphoria, one finds banana skins and peanuts all over. Why? Because some or at least one player in the teams were black. Monkey noises are all the time reported in European stadium among audience to deride the black people as monkeys who need bananas and peanuts.

These cheering crowds are the mainstay of professional football. They bring in the moolah, they sport the jerseys, they bring in the rallies and pamper the players with corporate sponsors by making them popular. The quid pro quo relations between racist audience and their role models have promoted football to emerge as not only the largest played game in human history, but also the most racist.

Only recently, Cameroonian FC Barcelona star Samuel Eto’o almost walked off the pitch after being showered by “fans” with monkey chants and peanuts. Last November, Messina’s Marc Zoro picked up the ball and threatened a walk out if racist chants continued from Inter Milan fans.

In November 2002 monkey chants were hurled at Manchester United’s Dwight Yorke by Sunderland fans during their Worthington Cup tie at the Stadium of Light. In the same month, Leicester City’s British-born Turkish star Muzzy Izzet was loudly booed by Leeds United fans each time he touched the ball during their Premier League clash. In September that year, fans watching England’s friendly match against France in Paris racially abused Andy Cole and chanted “I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk”.

Few selected recent racist incidents that Football Unites, Racism Divides mentions include how in 2004, Ron Atkinson resigned from his job with ITV after being heard on television describing Chelsea’s Marcel Desailly as “what is known in some schools as a f*****g lazy, thick n****r”.

These are continuance of shameful legacies. A decade ago, in the wake of Deptford Fire where 13 black youths were burnt to death, a chant in soccer stadium that could be heard at Millwall was: “We all agree, Niggers burn better than petrol”.

Similar chants used by national soccer teams include:
“Stand by the Union Jack
Send those niggers back
If you’re white, you’re alright
If you’re black, send ’em back”

Although racist chanting is considered unlawful only since the 1991 Football (Offences) Act, the law is actually a big loophole. Chanting is merely defined as the “repeated uttering of any words or sounds in concert with one or more others”. Hence, an individual shouting racist abuse can only be charged under the 1986 Public Order Act for using “obscene and foul language at football grounds”.

More creative racist slurs have also helped in letting the crowd overcome legal boundaries. In 1994, Holland audience were chanting
“Get back on your jam jar
Get back on your jam jar
La,la,la,la, La,la,la,la.”

New Age Racism-The Neo-Nazis:
Since last two years, scores of neo-nazi tactics have been displayed with audacities that would put human beings to shame. Not to these fans! Four British fans were fined and banned from matches for 4 and 5 years for racially abusing Birmingham’s Dwight Yorke. Emile Heskey and Andy Cole were racially abused by Slovakia fans. Black players were racially abused by Macedonia fans. Motherwell’s Steven Hammel was prosecuted for racist insults towards St Johnstone’s Mohammed Sylla. Asian referee Gurnam Singh successfully sued the FA for racial discrimination. FA was fined £70,000 for pitch invasion and racist abuse by England fans at Euro 2004 qualifier v Turkey.

Last August, ten men were jailed for upto 18 months for conducting violent attack on a Portuguese-run pub after England’s defeat to Portugal in Euro 2004 on 24th June. They were part of a mob which shouted racial abuse and hurled missiles smashing 37 windows at the pub in Thetford, Norfolk, leaving eight people injured and staff and customers forced to barricade themselves inside. Last November, Anderlecht’s Nenad Jestrovic was sent off for racially abusing Liverpool’s Momo Sissoko in a Champions League match at Anfield.

This year itself, Peterborough manager Mark Wright was suspended, and then sacked, for gross misconduct after a dispute stemming from the alleged racial abuse of defender Sean St Leger. He had resigned as manager of Oxford United after being fined and given a 4-match ban by the FA for making allegedly racist remarks at black referee Joe Ross.

In March this year, 39 people were charged following disorder and racist chanting at an FA Cup tie in Stoke between Stoke City and Birmingham City in February.
Kick it Out says fans, ethnic minority communities and players are still racially abused, particularly at the grassroots level where racist abuse is common in amateur football on our parks at the weekend.

What now:
Nothing has changed over last few months either. In fact, the inaugural edition of the Streetfootballworld festival has kicked off in Berlin. But the teams of Nigeria and Ghana have been refused entry visa!
The Streetfootballworld festival 06 is an official element of the Artistic and cultural program to the 2006 FIFA World Cup and is funded under FIFA’s Football for Hope-Program and the German Federal Ministry for Youth. Basically, even in July 2006, the European conglomerates are practicing widespread racism.

The silver lining is that there have been few campaigns to end racism in football. But they have come a cropper since institutional support obviously leans towards the cash rich sponsors, who do not give two hoots. The Campaign for Racial Equality (CRE), the Football Supporters Association (FSA) and the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) have all launched initiatives to try and rid football grounds of racism and encourage more people from ethnic minorities to attend matches.

Chairman of Kick It Out, Herman Ouseley has opined that more black players should rise up and protest, now that they are at a better league at least as members of national teams. “Why do you think the incident with Spanish fans happened at Bernabeu last month? Was it because of Aragones’ earlier comment about Thierry Henry [being ‘a Black s**t’]? Or why now?
The Black players of Arsenal should have insisted that they would not play in Europe till they got a full apology to Henry from Aragones and until the Spanish FA reprimanded him. Black players in national sides (in England and France) and in the Premier League are in a very strong position now to say that there is no way this kind of racism can continue, that they won’t take it any more.” If not many, at least Ronaldhino has come out speaking against current racism in the game, and that could be a saving grace for a world cup that is witnessing duels between racist giants.

French: The other finalists
Just as Italy is infamous for its fraudulent acts by any means, its contender France is a cruel joke indeed. All the while highlighting Zidane as its star and skipper, France would actually not have been in the finals if not for its black stars!

This is important to understand especially given the recent official apathy that French have taken towards French black youths that caused widespread protests last year.

Check this BBC report for example. In the entire story, there is not much mention of the player who actually made the victory goal. Only at the last paragraph the reporter writes “Goalscorer Henry”, not even attributing him with his full name Thierry Henry. By contrast, Zidane is very respectfully written about, his photograph splashed and he is called the man of the match. He is quoted in the headline! He is written about in the intro.

Yes it’s the same Thierry whom the Spanish players derided as black s**t. And the French never made a condition that unless the Spanish apologize they would not play their team. As for Henry, he is actually the brightest of all French players. With his fifth world cup goal he is ranked joint second with Michael Platini on the all time scorers list for France. And in the present world cup, out of total 7 goals scored by France so far, Henry has scored the highest: 3. One of the greatest living footballers in the world, he was also the top scorer in 1998 World Cup which France had bagged.

And yet it’s Zidane who takes the cup. Why? At times answers are really simple. There is no need to beat around the bush here.

A look at French team would show why there was not much jubilation when it entered the Finals. But then that’s a story for another day. It’s a story of granting favor, making laws, prohibiting opportunities, and minting big money. Which is why one feels tempted to ask one last race-based question for the world’s largest played game: Where are the players from world’s largest continent? Asia?

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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