As many of us are aware, racism has long been present in various footballing countries throughout the world. Over the past decade, there have been a plethora of accounts detailing racist abuse from fans directed at non-white players. There are a number of players, irrespective of race, that have taken staunch stances against racism in football, voicing their opinions by walking off the pitch or calling for stricter regulations in dealing with accounts of racism. With the explosion of social media, many prominent football stars such as Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli have utilized their social media presence to bring racism in football to their large followings. The use of social media like Twitter or Instagram has helped to not only publicize racist abuse players encounter but also to spark a conversation and garner significant amounts of support for the anti-racism movement.
One of the latest, and highly controversial, incidents involving racism in football came at the beginning of April during a Serie A match between Juventus and Cagliari. Throughout the match, 19-year-old Moise Kean, the son of Ivorian immigrants, was berated with monkey chants from a group of Cagliari fans. After scoring a late goal to put Juventus up 2-0, Kean proceeding to stand in front of the Cagliari fans with spread arms. This was met with more aggressive racist chanting and jeering from the fans. In a post-match interview, veteran Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci commented on the event saying that Kean was equally to blame for the event due to his provocative actions. Following Bonucci’s comments, black footballers such as Memphis Depay, Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra were all quick to defend Kean on social media and criticize Bonucci.
While it can be said that Kean may have been overly provocative to fans that were already racially abusing him and that he should’ve handled the situation differently, there is simply no justification for racial abuse under any circumstances. In response to the event, the majority of the conversation surrounding it has been focused quite singularly on Kean’s actions and the question of whether he was right in celebrating in that manner in front of the crowd. However, I believe that the focus of the dialogue should not be an attempt to determine fault, but rather a discussion of how situations of racial abuse during football matches should be dealt with.
Dealing with racial abuse in football is a daunting and difficult task to pursue for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there are a number of interconnected parties that could involve themselves in dealing with these issues: fans, players, officials, club administration, national footballing associations, continental football associations (e.g. UEFA) and FIFA. Therefore, while larger bodies (FIFA or a national FA) can implement high level directives to tackle racism, it is up to national FAs to implement regulations and to hold clubs accountable for their fans racially abusing players in the form of club-related repercussions. Furthermore, certain die-hard sects of fans in Italy and England, for example, have been culturally ingrained with racism for a long period of time. Thus, in their endeavor to stop racial abuse from occurring, footballing associations are tasked with changing aspects of the fundamental culture of some fanbases that have been developed over decades.
Following the Moise Kean incident, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has called for all FAs to introduce “harsh sanctions” in response to acts of racism by fans. Nonetheless, Infantino’s wishes can only go so far and ultimately, it is in the hands of clubs and national FAs to bear this responsibility and work hand in hand with FIFA to eradicate racism.