For the last several months, Europe has been struggling with persistent racist incidents at football games — from Sophia, Bulgaria to Budapest, Hungary to Rome Italy. There have also been incidents in England.
The Bulgarian Football Union is appealing sanctions imposed by the FIFA for racist abuse by some of its fans toward players during a World Cup qualifying game. Some Bulgaria fans made monkey chants at Denmark player, Patrick Mtiliga. Mtiliga’s father is from Tanzania. The chants were made during the qualifying games in October.
The FIFA, as punishment, has ordered Bulgaria to play in an empty stadium in March when it hosts Malta for a World Cup qualifying game. The team was also fined.
The Bulgarian Football Union is appealing the punishment because they claim it is disproportionately harsh — a game behind closed doors and a financial fine — considering the racist behavior was committed by a few fans.
The Hungarian Football Federation is also appealing a similar FIFA ruling as result of fans shouting anti-Semitic slogans at Israel during a game in August. Hungary has been ordered to play Romania behind closed doors in March.
While the racist slogans were hurled at Israel’s football players, the political and ethnic tensions — arising from the fate of a large Hungarian minority in Romania — is no secret and is the stage for extra interest and tension when these teams come together.
In Rome, AC Milan players walked off the field during an exhibition game with Pro Patria. The came ended. While the players who walked off were applauded by some, and several Pro Patria fans have been barred from all sports events in Italy for five years, the controversy continues.
The Italy watchdog body for sport has taken a stand that only a special public order officer will have the power to suspend matches in cases of racism, intolerance, or anti-Semitism. This watchdog body falls under the Italy police chief and the Italy soccer federation. The watchdog body is arguing that the public order officer should be the one to determine temporary suspension of games or warnings for fans.
Clearly, football across Europe has a serious problem with racism and racist behavior on the part of fans, irrespective of country.
Hopefully, it will not take an incidence to escalate to violence before a clear message is sent that football is not place for racist chants or gestures.
Plus, if you are racist and anti-Semitic, one can always choose not to attend the game.