UEFA and Racism in Europe

Partizan flagEarlier this week UEFA finally took action against Partizan Belgrade, expelling the club from the UEFA Cup after rioting in Mostar that left 36 injured. They had won their tie against Zrinjski 11-1 on aggregate, a result now entirely academic. It’s about time: as Pietro Paulo Virdis noted in the comments previously, it’s the 25th time they’ve been penalised for some crowd-related disturbance since the 1989/90 season.

So what will UEFA do with FK Zeta, whose fans racially abused DaMarcus Beasley and Jean-Claude Darcheville of Rangers this week? Given it’s their first offense, it’s hard to see them being kicked out. Some argue that UEFA must take a zero tolerance approach and expel clubs immediately for these kind of problems; UEFA themselves, as this interview with William Gaillard on the New York Times soccer blog reveals, seems likely to continue to argue that the problem belongs to society, not football.

NYT: How big is the problem of racism in European football?

Mr. Gaillard: It’s about as large as the problem of racism in Europe. Football mirrors society in quite a variety of ways. Of course, minority extremists may use football for their own propaganda purposes, and we’ve seen in some countries, in particular in the South and East of Europe, very marginal neo-Nazi or neo-fascist groups using football and football supporters as a means of conveying their messages in an organized fashion.

We have to distinguish between two types of behavior: One is organized and that has a purpose which is to campaign for a [group’s] extremist ideas by infiltrating supporters groups and sometimes getting hold of them by discouraging normal people from getting involved, even physically….

The second type is societal… places that are behind in awareness of the problem. That’s what we get in the Balkans and other parts of Eastern Europe. One person starts booing a black player and stupidly the whole stands start doing the same thing.

These are societies that are still traumatized by other events, like the war in the Balkans, and not aware of how other areas of Europe behave in the 21st century… We’re trying to fight both phenomena, but they both require different measures.

That all seems true enough to me, but is it just a mealy-mouthed excuse for taking watered-down action? FK Zeta’s apology for the incident was tepid at best, and seemed to follow the same theme: Zeta director Valdo Sisevic said that “The problem with racism is not a major incident. These are the actions of a few individuals and is nothing to do with the football club.” Yet remarkably, UEFA delegate Jean-Marie Phillips has revealed that it was a bottle thrown from the FK Zeta’s director’s box that launched the hail of missiles from Zeta fans.

What do you think UEFA can and should do about the problem of racism in European football? Should Zeta be expelled, or is the problem too big outside of football for UEFA to throw-out every club involved in such an incident?

Photo credit: ormondroyd on Flickr.

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