The football world was rocked by yet another issue on racism yesterday. What was supposed to be an action-filled match between Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir at Parc des Princes turned out to be controversial – and disgraceful.
A “black one over there” remark from fourth official Sebastian Coltescu, referring to Basaksehir assistant coach Pierre Webo eventually caused a walk-off of all the players and the suspension of the match.
It was insensitive in all sense, and utterly unprofessional.
The UEFA already vowed to launch a thorough investigation of the incident, and said the match will resume today.
PSG players supported the Turkish team’s decision to go back to the locker room. The team also posted an anti-racism post on their Twitter account.
Players walking off the pitch in protest against racism is rare and the fact that players from both teams involved in the game did so was especially striking.
But discrimination and racism are, unfortunately, not rare.
In an article published by The Guardian in January this year, there were more than 150 football-related racist incidents reported to police, a sharp rise of more than 50 percent on the year before and more than double the number from three seasons ago.
“Racism is both a football and societal issue, and it is clear that we are living in a climate of rising hatred and tribalism across the world,” said a spokesperson for Kick It Out, a leading UK organization that works to tackle discrimination in professional and grassroots football.
“In that context, it is no surprise to see a rise in reported incidents in English football. But it is also important to note that racism in the game has now become a far more mainstream topic – which we believe is encouraging supporters to take action and report abuse they see or hear.”
The issue of racism in football has been at the fore since last year, with high-profile incidents gaining backlash from both athletes, clubs and football fans.
A Premier League match had to be stopped for the first time to warn supporters that racist abuse would not be tolerated following an allegation from Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger.
Serie A was dogged for weeks by incidents of abuse, with the authorities unable to show any kind of leadership when it came to policing matters.
And in October 2019 during a qualifying match for Euro 2020, some of England’s Black players were subjected to abhorrent racist abuse by a large section of Bulgaria fans, causing the game to be halted twice. The sounds of monkey chants and images of fans performing Nazi salutes were broadcast around the world.
UEFA handed Bulgaria a one-game stadium ban and $83,000 fine, which many believed was wholly inadequate, considering Bulgaria was already in the middle of a partial stadium ban for a previous racism incident.
On the same day Bulgaria was handed its fine, an English FA Cup match was being replayed after the first game was marred by racism between fans and players.
It’s a concerning pattern that has yet to be fully addressed.
Kick It Out, Professional Footballers Association and other football organizations said that the lack of Black, Asian and minority ethnic representatives on UEFA’s disciplinary panel is probably the reason the football governing body is not as keen as they should be when giving out punishments for racist abuse.
In response, UEFA this year appointed former professional footballers Bobby Barnes and Celia Sasic as the first Black members on its Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body.
Though considerably late, this action is expected to create huge difference on how it handles incidents among teams.
Premier League and Football Association are also taking action by funding Kick It Out, pushing for their No Room for Racism campaign, and the introduction of the BAME (lack, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Participants’ Advisory Group.
Chelsea’s Say No To Anti-Semitism has made great progress as well, even earning the club and award for all the works they’ve done so far. But the club remains in a constant battle with their own supporters when it comes to fully eradicating racial abuse.
A number of Blues fans were either banned from stadium or were convicted of using racially-aggravated violence against other clubs and fans.
“We are in a challenging time,” Paul Elliott of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board told Goal. “I have always said when you have racism in society, then you are going to have it in football. But football is doing some really good work. In my view, the clubs and players don’t get enough recognition for the work they do.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, football matches are being held, albeit in crowd-less stadiums. The lack of audience has notably lessened racism incidents. But the world won’t stay like this forever. Stadiums will soon be opened to thousands of fans. That’s probably where the efforts of football governing bodies and clubs will be truly tested.
Not to mention the World Cup in 2020, which will be held in Qatar, a country where there are particular concerns not just about racism but homosexuality. And the 2026 tournament in the US, alongside Canada and Mexico. Let’s not forget how Donald Trump made racial inequality in the US more prevalent than ever.
It’s unlikely that racism and all other abuses present in football can be completely eradicated in the years to come. Actions against all kinds of discrimination should extend beyond European leagues. It should be a global effort.
Football isn’t just a sport. It’s a powerful force that binds athletes, coaches and fans to come together and celebrate strength, endurance, teamwork and camaraderie. But with all the racism and abuse issues surrounding the sacred sport, football may soon lose its true purpose.