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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 16 July 2024

Ugly face: Editorial on racism in football and the need for a public campaign against it

One of the earliest instances of sport being sullied by the prejudice of colour took place inside a boxing ring in the early 19th century when an Englishman, a world champion, was pitted against a rival who was a former slave

The Editorial Board Published 25.06.24, 07:53 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo

Football does have a bit of the Jekyll and Hyde personality. It is, undoubtedly, a beautiful game. But the beauty is often marred by an ugly spectre — that of racism — which seems to be organic to the game. Consider some of the developments that have taken place in the ongoing UEFA European Football Championship being hosted by Germany. An Albanian footballer has been punished with a two-match ban by UEFA after he led a segment of spectators making derogatory chants targeting Serbia and North Macedonia. There are allegations that England was targeted by Serbian fans during their first match in the competition. These incidents are not an aberration. In the last edition of the tournament, three black footballers in the English squad were singled out for vicious racial abuse after England lost in the final. Racism’s endurance in football, quite naturally, raises periodic questions about the deterrents in place. These range from the symbolic — UEFA’s observation of international anti-racism day — to the concrete — the footballing body’s Ten-Point Plan punishes, among others, spectators, players, as well as merchandise who are guilty of fanning the racist fire. It would be naïve to suggest that discrimination ails only football. In cricket, India-Pakistan matches have often brought out objectionable behaviour on the part of crowds. One of the earliest instances of sport being sullied by the prejudice of colour took place inside a boxing ring in the early 19th century when an Englishman, a world champion, was pitted against a rival who was a former slave.

These anecdotes, be they from the past or the present, only reiterate the Orwellian conception that sport essentially is 'war minus the shooting'. This is because sporting venues — be it a football pitch or a cricket ground — are often transformed into arenas of combat on account of sport serving as a proverbial mirror of the fault lines of not only society but also larger polities. This brings to the fore an important question. Should interventions against discrimination in sport remain limited to administrative mechanisms? Or do they require the mobilisation of non-sporting spheres? For instance, a public campaign against racism in football could benefit by roping in not only clubs, federations, and law and order agencies but also education, the arts, the media and advertising to take the battle to this hydra-headed monster. Taking the knee has, after all, not brought racism to its knees.

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