The beautiful game: a phrase which represents a game that takes up so much of our time. If it’s either counting down the minutes until the referee’s whistle at 3 o’clock on a Saturday, or screaming at the television on a weekday night after conceding a 90th minute equaliser on FIFA – football plays such a major role in many of our lives. However, those three words that we worship have diseased, and have been infected for far too long. Racism plagues football every day and is undeniably the largest issue the sport has ever faced. It needs to be killed, and it needs to be killed now.
"Give him 10 bananas to eat”. This was Italian TV pundit, Luciano Passirani’s, method on how defenders in the Serie A, the top division in Italian football, should prevent Belgium international striker, Romelu Lukaku (who is of Congolese descent), from scoring goals. Thankfully, Passirani’s position at the news station Telelombardia was instantly terminated. This came soon after Lukaku scored a penalty against Calgiari and was met by multiple monkey chants from the Sardinian side’s fans. To make matters even worse, ultras from Lukaku’s club, Inter Milan, published an open letter supporting these horrific chants claiming that it was part of Italian culture to go to any length for their side to win. This insanity of racial prejudice within the Italian footballing community was later emphasised when the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) deemed that there was not enough “scale and realisation” of the incident to justify any form of sanction for Cagliari and their supporters. It’s not the actual racial incidents that are the real problem, it’s the fact that the governing bodies aren’t doing enough about it, expressing a view that it should almost be something that we, as a football community, just accept as part of the sport. But it’s not just across Europe – it’s also a lot closer to home than we think.
During the summer, Huddersfield Town were fined £40,000 by the Football Association for wearing a fake sponsorship, handcrafted by bookmakers Paddy Power, during a pre-season friendly against Rochdale, due to a breach in sponsorship rules. Paddy Power were very quick to point out on their 650,000-followed Twitter account that a few months prior to this fine, in January, Millwall FC received a mere £10,000 fine for alleged racist chanting in a FA Cup match against Everton. The fact that a bookmaker is setting the bar for moral conduct really shows the widespread problem of racism and discrimination within the governing bodies of English football.
Since the day a ball was first kicked in Scotland, the sport has been afflicted by bigotry, hate and prejudice. Mark Walters, Paul Elliot, Bobo Balde, Scott Sinclair, Shay Logan, El Hadji Diouf, Derek McInnes, and Neil Lennon are just a tiny number of players and ex-players who have been the focus of attention after receiving brutal treatment due to their race and heritage throughout the decades. There are thousands upon thousands of cases of racism that have fallen through the cracks of the bigoted, hate-fuelled sport that is Scottish football. Fines and stadium bans are all well and good for the short-term, but they will do absolutely nothing to reduce racism in the long-term.
The main reason why Scottish football fans struggle with tackling the issue of racism and discrimination is because they are up there with the most stubborn and passionate football fans in the world. It’s the constant "one-up-ness” between the fans. For example, when footage emerged from a Rangers supporter bus going towards a match last year with fans on the bus singing “Scott Sinclair a dirty 'Fenian' n****r”, a minority of Rangers fans quickly justified this horrific song with other grim racial incidents in the past, such as when a monkey gesture was directed towards former Rangers forward, El Hadji Diouf, by a Celtic fan. This happens the other way round, with Celtic fans and other fans of Scottish clubs deflecting onto other incidents when their club is under fire from the media and the footballing world. For any real change to take place within Scottish football, and in football more generally, every single club and their fans will need to unite together and truly address the issue. Players like Raheem Sterling have spoken out on numerous occasions about changes to the game, and with a ridiculous level of stories being published so far this season on top-flight players being the targets of online racial abuse, the concern is only getting more serious – and therefore the punishments sanctioned must do the same.
Let’s show the world why it really is the beautiful game: the amazing feeling when the ball nestles in the back of the net in the final moments of the match, the moment when your side lifts that trophy at the end of the season after a year of hard work, the noise of a massive 50/50 crunch challenge, the vibrations of the fans jumping up and down in the stands... Let’s make the beautiful game beautiful again. No more deflecting, no more excuses. Football is more than racist minorities, and racism needs to be stamped out now.