It was a press conference that beggared belief.
Before a word of denial spilled out of Montenegro coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic’s mouth, his press officer immediately shot down the question of racism. Preposterous. No one heard anything.
When Tumbakovic finally deigned to speak on the subject, he was aghast at even being asked to comment. As for having heard chanting – well, simply impossible when so focused on the game.
It was all so blasé, so … ignorant. And therein lies the root of the problem. From a coach and press officer’s verbal shrugs, to the handful of Montenegrin fans who wanted to elicit a response. The undercurrent of the reaction was simply, ‘why does it matter?’
The great irony is that many of the perpetrators are unlikely to consider themselves racist. To them it is merely a way of affecting the game, getting under the skin of a far superior side. Words and noises, in their eyes, do no harm.
The same sentiment is often found on the other side of the divide. Comment sections on UK-based websites are rarely home to an enlightened cross-section of society, but the ‘get on with it’ crowd were out in worrying force.
‘Ignore the language, sticks and stones springs to mind,’ one Times user wrote. ‘Keep calm, channel your anger into a terrific performance’ said another.
Undoubtedly written by middle-aged Caucasian men who have had the privilege of not once being compared to a monkey.
It hurts, and we’ve been alerted to it so many times; whether it is Sterling railing against thinly-veiled stereotyping in the British media, or Danny Rose imploring his family not to attend the World Cup because of his misgivings over Russian attitudes.
Instead of telling victims how to act, then, we must get to the bottom of the actions themselves.
WE’RE WAITING, UEFA
If only there was a powerful, influential and cash-rich organisation that had the collective spines to do something about it. UEFA fall woefully short on the latter.
UEFA’s official ‘ten-point plan’ on discrimination is meek to begin with. Gems such as ‘issue statements saying racism will not be tolerated’ and ‘make public announcements condemning racist chanting’ are almost laughably lukewarm.
Reading through the document, in partnership with FARE – Football Against Racism in Europe – the emphasis is on what clubs and associations can do, rather than UEFA. It’s time to get hands-on.
An investigation into the scenes in Montenegro has been launched, of course, and a fine is probably already in the post with a partial or full stadium ban close behind.
All this does is fire-fight the symptoms and foster resentment from those who have done no wrong, rather than target the root of the ignorance.
The solution is education. The rest is secondary. Pinpoint the supporters, countries, clubs that are the biggest hotspots for abuse, and start reforming attitudes by funding programmes and workshops.
Engage managers, coaches, press officers. Those who don’t come into contact with people of different ethnic backgrounds, and have trouble processing simple empathy.
Just as numerous studies into criminal justice systems have shown, rehabilitation over heavy-handed punishment is almost always the most effective way to stop repeat offending.
Perhaps then, young black men could start to simply ‘get on’ with playing football.
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