David Cameron’s intervention in the long-running dispute over the use of the Y-word at Tottenham Hotspur took everyone by surprise. No doubt with a keen eye to the debate around free speech rather than a football audience, his interview with the Jewish Chronicle nevertheless struck a chord with many Spurs fans. “There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as ‘yids’ and someone calling someone a ‘yid’ as an insult. You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted – but only when it’s motivated by hate.”
I am a football fan, I have lived in Liverpool for 14 years and I am black. The controversy over the racist abuse case between Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra has made me rethink my feelings towards the city and Liverpool supporters. But that is nothing compared to the dilemmas faced by Liverpool's black fans. In all the debate about this issue their perspective has been overlooked.
The first phase of the Russian season has been a busy one but unfortunately most of the action has involved incidents in the crowd rather than excitement on the pitch. In 15 rounds fans have twice racially abused Anzhi Makhachkala's Roberto Carlos with bananas, and other black players with monkey noises. Zenit, Spartak and Dinamo Moscow supporters have torn out seats, fought the police and thrown fireworks at several venues. There has also been tension between Moscow sides and the newly powerful teams from the Caucasus.
The problems are not new but they are on the increase. The most disappointing aspect has been the failure of the football authorities to find an adequate way of dealing with them. It is disappointing, yet to Russian football fans not surprising.
The Russian Football Union (RFU) regularly fines clubs whose fans have offended, but seems impotent when it comes to punishing individuals – and much less powerful than the clubs themselves. The identities of those who abused Roberto Carlos remain a mystery. Following the first incident at Zenit St Petersburg, RFU president Sergey Fursenko told the press it was "essential that Zenit seek out this perpetrator, prevent him from coming to matches, and give [us] his name and place of work". He suggested this would teach like-minded people a lesson, but Zenit didn't agree – the club claimed to have found and disciplined the racist, but wouldn't reveal his name "for his own safety".
An image of the fan who threw a banana at Roberto Carlos at Krilya Sovetov three months later was published just hours after the incident. Fursenko said he would be immediately brought to justice and the Premier League's security director said they would get his name. He is still at large.
Part of the problem is that current laws are outdated. A new "fans' law", which would make it possible to blacklist individual troublemakers, was first mentioned more than two years ago in WSC 265 and is supposed to be enacted later this season. Fan groups – who get the blame for much of the trouble at stadiums – are opposed, fearing the police would abuse any extra power they were given, and claiming they're being made scapegoats for a general slide towards a more violent society.
The authorities are at least making a show of taking their concerns seriously, probably because they fear the worst. Led by intelligent but shadowy individuals with disaffected, nationalistic youths as footsoldiers, fan groups make up considerable parts of crowds and are capable of causing mass disorder as well as creating more articulate demonstrations. At the Russia v Armenia Euro 2012 qualifier held in St Petersburg in June, fan groups revealed a banner saying: "Before the law." During the second half they emptied an entire stand, leaving behind a second slogan: "After the law."
Of course, the fan groups may be resisting something that won't work in any case: observing the law properly is a weakness of both law enforcers and citizens in modern Russia. Writing in Sport Express, Evgeny Dzichkovsky felt only draconian measures would truly overcome the problem: "If we don't want fans to kick Russian football to the gutter, they need to live in fear of real punishments, not cardboard ones. Pavlov created an efficient mechanism for this a long time ago... So that the clubs don't simply buy their way out of trouble and work seriously with their fans, they [the fans] need to be put into a situation where they are unable to act in any other way but one."
Maybe efforts would be better put into tackling the root causes of the problems. While the talk is currently of punishment, few are asking why there are growing nationalistic and aggressive cabals at stadiums in the first place. Racists are usually criticised with the caveat that the whole world is battling with such problems, as if the monkey noises and the flying fruit are a regular part of matches everywhere. That such a famous player as Roberto Carlos was abused seems to have caused more upset than previous incidents among ordinary fans. However, regretful comments on Championat.ru were combined with banana jokes, moaning about political correctness gone mad and claims of Russians being victimised.
The first step to solving such problems might lie in Russia realising – at all levels of society – that their crowd problems are worse than in other European leagues of similar stature. The second would be trying to understand why. Expensive and long-winded it might prove to be, but it would bring about better results than even more cardboard laws.
From WSC 295 September 2011
It was all going too well. The France national team’s remarkable rebirth under Laurent Blanc came to an abrupt halt last month following the publication of transcripts from tapes that threatened not only to end the former Manchester United defender’s impressive start as les Bleus manager, but also engulf French football in a bigger scandal than the World Cup players’ strike.
Botafogo striker Sebastián Abreu put on odd boots – one white, one back – for the club’s derby with Flamengo in the Carioca (Rio state) championship on April 10, while another Rio club, Vasco da Gama, recently launched a shirt with a message on the collar about “democracy and inclusion”.
Adam Powley takes in the story of a footballer and soldier who broke race and class barriers but is yet to be officially recognised
The experiences of one of British football’s black pioneers, and his courageous efforts to overcome adversity and break down barriers both in sport and the armed forces, has long merited an in-depth study. Now campaigners hope that a new book about Walter Tull will add impetus to the calls for him to receive the posthumous military honour his bravery deserved.
Asian players are still thin on the ground in English football. There are some good prospects but, believes Gavin Willacy, the round-ball game should look at the success of rugby league in this area
Two years ago WSC 225 focused on the Asians Can Play Football campaign. Of the four British Asians playing professionally then, Michael Chopra, the mixed-race son of an Indian grocer, is trying to prove he is a Premier League-quality striker with Sunderland, and QPR midfielder Zesh Rehman has clocked up nearly 100 appearances in the Championship. They are making a career – and a lot of money – from football. Adnan Ahmed is on the fringes at Tranmere and Harpal Singh – who got into Leeds’ squad but didn’t play a first-team game there – is coming to the end of an injury-ravaged season in Ireland, sitting on the bench for Bohemians. Coming into the League this season has been former West Ham trainee Anwar Uddin, after captaining Dagenham & Redbridge to the Conference title.
Blackburn Rovers have had little success in attracting non-white fans. But the recent Kick It Out anti-racism week was used to try to appeal to the town’s Asian community, as Bruce Wilkinson reports
There was a time when it was extremely rare to see any black or Asian faces around Ewood Park, but thankfully this has slowly begun to change. The club are running a strong anti-racism campaign under the banner of Not Under Our Roof and have put together a number of events to coincide with the Kick It Out week. Youngsters attending Rovers’ education department created anti-racism posters prominently displayed in the programme for the game against Reading. Pupils from local schools paraded before the match waving Kick It Out banners, while a number of high-profile players, including Tugay and Jason Roberts, supported the week of action.
Racist incidents in games between Serbian and British sides have rightly led to condemnation – but not always of the right people, argues Jonathan Wilson. Some of the outrage is counter-productive, too
There is no subject more certain to set forth tidal waves of sanctimony than racism. Discussion has become impossible, largely because British football has been so successful in its campaign against racism that it now feels compelled to lecture the rest of the world on the subject. It isn’t helping.
Julius Bergmann looks at the alarming recent rise in racism at German matches
Long before Anton Ferdinand and Micah Richards made allegations of verbal abuse from opponents during England Under-21s’ recent win in Leverkusen, German football had been shaken by a series of racially motivated incidents. Werder Bremen striker Patrick Owomoyela was branded as “non-German” by an extreme right party when he was being considered for the 2006 World Cup and Schalke’s Gerald Asamoah, another Germany player, was subject to abuse during a cup tie in Rostock. In Aachen a referee threatened to abandon a Bundesliga match unless offensive chanting stopped. For many, the real low point came when Germany fans sang discriminatory songs during the Euro 2008 qualifier in Bratislava in October.