OPINION: European soccer leagues must do more to combat racism

Feb 11, 2024 | OP-ED, Opinion

Racism in sports is a big issue altogether but more specifically, its is unfortunately fairly common in European soccer.

Over the past year, many incidents have been reported in countries like Italy, Spain, and England.

This is having a horrible effect on so many Black players who have to go through many incidents of racism every season.

“I think it’s stressful for professional athletes to be dealing with these incidents because it is affecting them not only on a personal level but also their performance,” said Simon Darnell, an expert on social issues and abuse in sports.

Kick It Out is an organization that works within the football, and educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination and work for positive change.

They have reported that racism remains the most common form of discrimination in professional football, accounting for 49.3 per cent of all reports.

The way the leagues are handling these situations is not leading to any change. They don’t seem to be doing enough.

Many campaigns have been fought to combat racism in Europe. In England, they created “No room for racism,” and in Italy, they created “Keep racism out.”

These campaigns are based on keeping racism out of soccer and punishing people for their actions. Despite this, these incidents keep happening every season.

The latest incident happened in Italy on Jan. 20 in a Serie A match between AC Milan and Udinese. Goalkeeper Mike Maignan for the Rossoneri fell victim to racist chants from Udinese fans.

During the game, Maignan told the referee he had been subjected to monkey noises from behind the goal for most of the first half. Unfortunately, the abuse didn’t stop and at the 35-minute mark, Maignan took off his gloves and headed into the tunnel, unwilling to play any further part in the match.

The 28-year-old goalkeeper was joined by his teammates and the match was suspended for about five minutes before they returned. Milan went on to win 3-2.

Sabrina Razack, a social rights expert, doesn’t believe it’s the player’s responsibility to solve these issues.

“Walking off the field every time this happens puts the labour on the athletes themselves to do something about it,” Razack said.

It’s security’s job to identify whoever is responsible and ensure those people are punished, in part by not being allowed to come into the stadium ever again.

The organizations involved should also be doing more than just sending out a statement in support. They need to let their fans know before entering the stadium that racism will not be tolerated and will be punished.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino called the latest incident “totally abhorrent and completely unacceptable” and said world soccer’s governing body could initiate tougher punishments.

“We live in a world with a lot of racism, so I think this is an issue that needs to be faced on multiple fronts. It’s not surprising that we’re still seeing it, in sports,” Darnell said.

With regards to that specific incident in Italy, stadium officials were able to identify the racist fan and the club banned him for life. The team also played in an empty stadium against Monza on Feb. 3.

“This person will face a lifetime ban from attending any Udinese Calcio matches. We believe that such strong measures are necessary to send a clear message that racism has no place in football or society,” Italian team Udinese said in a statement.

Darnell was heartened by the positive reaction.

“I’m encouraged that we’re getting to a point where the next generation of sports fans recognize this is something that’s not acceptable in sports or anywhere,” Darnell said.

This punishment shows signs of improvement in the way that clubs are taking a stand against racism. I hope that with time we will start to see fewer and fewer of these incidents happening, not just in Europe but around the world.