In England’s 6-0 win over Bulgaria, Monday 14th October Tyrone Mings and Marcus Rashford alongside others faced racism in the form of Nazi salutes and monkey chants from swathes of Bulgarian fans, leading to two partial stoppages of the game.
Since this incident, Bulgaria has been fined €75,000 and ordered to play behind closed doors. However, over the past couple of years racism in football has once again permeated the headlines both in England, across Europe and football leagues.
Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling has been targeted with racism in many stadiums, countries and via many media outlets.
Raheem seemingly has become an anti-racist spokesperson ever since racism at Stamford Bridge was aimed at him, and he spoke out again, belittling the response of Bulgarian manager Balakov to the outrage.
Bulgaria manager Krasmir Balakov said:
“What I can say is that I don’t think we have a problem. In the Bulgarian championship, we have a lot of players of different ethnicities and skin colour. I don’t think that we have this big problem like, for example, England do.”
Asked to clarify his comments, Balakov stated there had been various incidents of racism in English football, which he considered “normal because it’s a big country with a very diverse population. But we don’t have this problem in Bulgaria, I can assure you of that.”
Sterling merely tweeted in response “Mmmmh…Not sure about this one chief.” A witty quickfire response to ludicrous claims.
The Three-Step Protocol
Infantino, who during his time at UEFA introduced the three-step protocol in 2017, including two steps of ‘announcements’ to spectators and a final third step of abandoning the match if the behaviour continues.
As the saying goes once bitten, twice shy, but three times? Twice is enough of a warning. Harry Kane as a leader should have walked off, taking it out the hands of UEFA instead in solidarity for the players he leads and the virulent racism against his players.
If he had, he would have shocked the world and set a powerful anti-racist precedent that the captain of the English team would stand only for zero tolerance. An ally in the struggle against racism in football.
Instead, the game was stopped twice and ‘nearly’ abandoned. A 6-0 win is a strong statement, but is walking off the pitch a stronger statement? Evidently from the behaviour inside the ground, the three strikes rule did little to deter their actions.
The onus cannot rest on Harry Kane or other captains. We need to see Bulgarian and players of all nationalities to speak out in opposition against racism in solidarity with English players. Otherwise, the players are complicit in the racism as much as the fans who perpetrated it.
“Silence is violence.”
Racism is social and it is institutionalised, when it is not directly tackled by some of the most powerful sporting organisations in the world, then it shows the scale of the problem. Football players need to speak out more against racism, especially when managers like Balakov claim not to have heard any racist chanting. Players boycotting games similar to the actions of Colin Kapernick in 2016 would send an extremely powerful message of non-complicity and solidarity, above the profit margins and financial concerns of clubs and the super-rich who own them.
Concerning his kneeling for the national anthem Kapernick stated: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” The mix of patriotic pride, ‘nation’ and sport, in a harsh and increasingly worrying political climate in the West, could mean supporting a team becomes embellished with fear of ‘the other’. People, and in this context, football players, become ‘traitors’. Enemies within because of the colour of their skin and in turn the fact they do not therefore ‘belong’.
Zero tolerance policies in football, would be a truly patriotic act however; to support the people of whatever country and defend against harm . People do not become racists when they step inside a stadium; fans may just be in an environment to let out anger generated by ever more divisive politics and failing social support networks. This is not for UEFA or any sporting body to solve, but rather act to create a space that calls out and tackles behaviour, rather than allow for it.
Sports players carry a social, cultural and economic capital that will force fans, other players and large organisational bodies to confront systemic and institutional problems at the highest level. In the sporting world, money talks across language barriers. Enforcing financial penalties could also be an effective weapon in any organisations arsenal but must be backed up with harsher punishments for teams.
Contrastingly, there is nobility in continuing to play beating Bulgaria 6-0. To continue in the face of evident racism, the sound of monkey chants and the view of Nazi salutes. It shows that no matter the racism feeling in the air they carried on professionally. However, we cannot put the emphasis on players and staff to ‘keep calm and carry on’, and to be demonised if they loose their cool.
One Twitter user encapsulated the British mentality and championing diversity and representation in sport.
Racism is a social disease, an illness that is repugnant and devoid of morality, but embellished and nourished with ignorance. A three-step protocol is inept, alongside a mere €75,000 fine. A deeper investigation into racism in football needs to be held. Football is a universal language as is racism, which if utilised properly could have powerful influence on how we tackle it beyond the stadiums. UEFA have since vowed to ‘wage war’ on racism in the wake of the game, after Balakov resigned from his position as manager after advise from Bulgaria’s prime minister.
Raheem Sterling, Tammy Abrahams, Danny Rose are only three players in a long list of high profile footballers who have faced racism on the football pitch and outside of it. No matter how racism is challenged in sport, power is in the hands of those who are victims and their allies in judging people on talent rather than skin colour or ethnicity. Bulgaria seemed they were unable to do that, and the cognitive dissonance from the manager and reporters alike speak to the challenges to eliminate racism.
To erase racism, it must be seen for what it is within a system that supports action, not apologists.