It seems as though racism has been the key issue to be reported throughout this European Championship tournament. Before the tournament there were exaggerated reports of potential threats to visiting non-white fans. Since the tournament begun there have been numerous relatively small scale incidents that have been reported relatively frequently. Now the key question being asked by so many members of the Western media is why Nicklas Bendtner was fined more money for wearing sponsored underwear than many football associations were fined as punishments for fans from their nations committing racial abuse.
The amazing thing about all of this is that nobody seems to be offering any legitimate solutions to the race issue or crowd problems in general. All we seem to hear is how football associations should be fined more and more money because of the behaviour of their fans. It is almost as though people are missing the point when it comes to this problem. Money will hurt the FAs if fines are large enough but it will do absolutely nothing to tackle racism at international football tournaments.
This is a UEFA event, not an event organised by the Croatian or Spanish football associations. UEFA are the ones who have dealt with ticketing and security for the tournament. They are the ones who have put together the training programmes for stewards. UEFA are the ones who should be responsible for how people behave at their events. They have claimed on numerous occasions that they want to stamp out racism and even have advertising boards with this message at their games. They however have done nothing about it.
Sadly UEFA’s security arrangements for this tournament have not been adequate. The steward was beaten up in Wroclaw because he had no backup from other stewards and nothing to protect himself with such as pepper spray or a baton. This season in the Polish league there had been no problems at that stadium all season. Ultras from two rival clubs even shared the same terrace during one game without incident. The reason for this is that the club (Slask Wroclaw) provided the security for league games. They did this to an adequate level where stewards and security teams work in groups and are armed with self-defence weapons as a deterrent. They also made sure that those used were professionals who were trained for the job.
At the Russia v Czech Republic game the steward (who was attacked) was expected to go into the section containing the most hardcore Russian fans and tried to eject one for lighting a flare. This is what caused the beating. Any sane person who understands the tribal behaviour of football fans would know that this was a ridiculous idea. To remove a fan from a hardcore sector would require a whole team of armed security personnel or otherwise the police. Fans always become involved when security try and eject one of their own. It would be obvious to any professional that this would be the case here. The most intelligent solution is to let it go during the game and then arrest the perpetrator after the game. This is common place in the Polish league. When the guilty party is arrested he will then receive a banning order and possible a criminal prosecution. He will then not be able to commit the same offense at other games. To send in one or two unarmed men to take this kind of action can never work and will inevitably result in them being removed rather than the offender. To send in the riot police or security forces to baton anyone blocking the fan’s removal would escalate the incident and damage the tournament’s image further so is not worthwhile for something as minor as lighting a flare. Smart policing of events is the key.
Racism has to be dealt with in a similar manner. The individuals who commit race-related offenses need to be punished. UEFA need to send a message to those who behave in this archaic manner that they are no longer welcome at their events. They need to use footage from TV and CCTV and pick out those who join in with monkey-chanting or similar behaviour. Those people should then be given bans. It is not something that can happen overnight. It will be a slow process that can transform stadiums all over Europe. It will be a process that teaches people that they need to change their behaviour or otherwise face the consequences. If people know that monkey-chanting could get them banned for years they wouldn’t do it. At the moment they know that they as individuals will not be punished and therefore there isn’t a deterrent.
Fining FAs is actually one of the dumbest punishments that could possibly be handed out. Fans in most countries dislike their national FA. A lot of groups would actually take great pleasure in getting them fined as much money as possible. It’s almost like a revenge for the problems associations have caused to fan groups, especially in Eastern European leagues. Deducting points from national teams is also a stupid idea. Players have no control over who is sold tickets to watch them play. They are the ones who would suffer if fined, not the perpetrators.
It would also be a mistake to send in the security guards or police like many idealists have suggested. To remove a few hundred people from a stadium would require the riot squad and would turn any game ugly. Those committing the offenses clearly have contempt for the authorities and would not peacefully leave the ground, especially considering the high ticket prices paid. If riot police entered terraces at this tournament and beat people with batons in order to remove them it would send the sport’s image back thirty years. It wouldn’t be good for viewers, players, fans, UEFA or anyone else involved.
People don’t want to hear this, but there is no short-term cure for racism and there is no short-term solution to people dishing out racist abuse at football matches. While many idealists are complaining about Bendtner’s fine and comparing other fines given out for racism the realists need to sit down together and come up with a real solution to this problem. As well-intentioned as organisations like FARE may be they do not have the ability to make large-scale changes in this area on their own. UEFA are the only people who can. In domestic leagues the national associations and clubs are the only people who can change things. It is down to them to weed out those who abuse players for the colour of their skin and to ban these people from football. Until the abusers are removed we will continue to have these problems and these organisations will continue to blame everyone but themselves. Education is important but most people already understand the theory. Action is what’s needed and it’s the area where the sport’s governing bodies have been laziest.
It is easy for competent security personnel to search people entering a stadium for banned items such as weapons, bangers or flares. It is however impossible to find a racist in this manner. The only way to find out who these people are is by watching their actions, discovering their identities and punishing them. There is no set way for a racist to dress or act and he or she isn’t easy to spot in a crowd when not speaking of their beliefs on this issue. The removal of racists and racial abuse from football grounds isn’t a cheap or easy thing to do. It also can’t happen overnight. It is something that national associations, UEFA, FIFA and clubs need to work together on. Sadly it is clear that this area hasn’t been taken seriously by the responsible people. This needs to change for the good of the sport that we all love. Fining FAs is an easy way out and an excuse made by UEFA for their own incompetence. UEFA need to step up like men and take responsibility for their role in this mess.