What are football clubs supposed to do about racism?


By Tony Attwood

I have to admit I don’t hear any racist commentaries from anyone when I attend matches at Arsenal although seemingly it still goes on.  I don’t sit in a box, so I am among regular fans, but most of the people around me are, like me, season ticket holders, and the seats are among the more expensive ones in the ground.   So by and large people around me are “of a certain age” and I suspect anyone who did make a racist comment would be reported to stewards very quickly.

And yet I certainly used to hear such comments at Arsenal. Which makes me wonder how this got sorted out in England and not in Spain.  It was, I think through a sheer determination by the club to deal with the issue, and the fact that many fans themselves found racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments unacceptable.

I must add however that since I stopped going to away games a few years ago I can’t speak for what happens now in other PL grounds, although watching matches occasionally at my local non-league club I can’t recall any racist or homophobic comments at all – and although the crowds are small, there is as much a mix of people at that ground as there is at Arsenal.

Yet we have all been able to read about events in Spain of where, during Real Madrid’s away game in Valencia last weekend, some of the Valencia fans repeatedly racially abused Real’s player Vinicius Junior in the most appalling manner.   The player then got angry (very understandably) and was sent off by the referee.

The following day, the player posted a note on social media, stating that the league was run by racists, and demanded action from the Spanish football federation.  Then the VAR official, Javier Iglesias Villanueva, was stood down after it became clear that he did not show the referee all the relevant footage when the referee was reviewing the situation.  As a result of which the referee gave Vinicius a red card, which was clearly ludicrous.

Meanwhile, the supporters of Atlético Madrid are reported to have hung a doll wearing the Real Madrid striker’s shirt from a bridge near the club’s training ground and then put a video of the incident on Twitter.  Four people have been arrested and now face hate crime charges.  I haven’t heard if the police are involved in the case from the Valencia game although Valencia has demanded a worldwide stadium ban for these individuals.

Carlo Ancelotti, the manager of Real Madrid has added his voice saying that in the event of a racist incident in a stadium, the match must be stopped, and if the incidents continue, the match should be cancelled.

That however is something the police tend to object to, because if a match is stopped by the action of some home fans, there is every chance that there would be considerable public disorder both within and outside the stadium, which the police would in all probability not be able to handle.

Vinicus himself raised the stakes the day after the event by writing on social media that the league was now owned by racists, and demanded further action from the football federation on the grounds that there have been repeated complaints to the football federation who have taken no action. 

Which brings us back to the old issue of how much the clubs should be held responsible for the behaviour of their fans?

From my own position in the ground at Arsenal, I think the club has done quite well in this regard, which is not something I can always say (the leaking roof being one example of its long-term inability to handle basic matters).  

What they could do in Spain is follow the English example of having cameras in the ground on the crowd.  This fits with the high-level surveillance society that we have in England, wherein we are all already tracked on camera throughout our journies every day.  I am not sure it fits with the Spanish model of freedom.

But it should also be noted that Arsenal has itself been very successful in stopping anti-Semitic chanting within the ground, and although that can still be heard within the crowd heading for the underground stations after the game, it is now nothing like as prevalent as it was in the past.

In the end I think that racist and anti-Semitic chanting in English matches has diminished simply because the majority of fans in the ground found it unacceptable.   If that is not the case in Spain, then surely a few ground closures and arrests for disturbing public order, and maybe some bans for those found guilty, would point out to fans who still indulge in such behaviour that this is not acceptable.

Put like that, it really doesn’t seem that difficult, and it certainly seemed to work in England.  It is not so much about educating people – although that is always a good idea.  It is simply about taking their tickets away. 

2 Replies to “What are football clubs supposed to do about racism?”

  1. Good article. Lifetime bans must be the answer here – which necessitates cameras covering attendees. Publicize a few morons being prevented from attending games in future and people will wake up.

    It might not be possible to change everyone’s opinion on race, but we can make it in everyone’s interest for such people to keep their mouths shut

  2. Docking the offending team a point would also make everyone sit up and notice. Imagine getting relegated for lack of one point because some misfits decided to open wide? That would focus whatever little minds they have.

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