On the 17th of February every bar in Paris was packed with excited PSG fans; however one ugly incident tarnished the memory of this match.
British Chelsea fans on their way to the match were caught on camera racially abusing a black man by preventing him from entering their train carriage. They chanted “We’re racist and we like it” and caused other black Parisians to feel so threatened that they were obliged to leave the train.
Of course, the FA, the BBC and Chelsea spokesman were quick to deliver statements about this horrific behaviour and eager to deliver bans if they can identify the perpetrators of this hate crime.
A Chelsea spokesman was quoted saying that this type of violent behaviour had “no place in football or society”, however sadly; violence has been a consistant problem within football culture.
Why does a sport that is so unifying also breed more violence than any other form of entertainment in the world?
Studies have shown that in fact violence in football goes back even further than we think.
Violence in football originated in the 13th century when the game was used to settle arguments and disputes or ancient feuds. Subsequently, the game was fleetingly peaceful throughout the first half of 20th century. Indeed, the tale of the England vs Germany football match which took place on Christmas day during WW1 has been passed down triumphantly. However, although this football truce lasted during the inter-war period, what is known as “Football Hooliganism” originated in England in the 1960s. This was the first time when pitch invasions and violent riots were recognised as a serious problem. In the 1980s football hooligans reached a peak and many deaths were caused in violent encounters between English fans. Unsurprisingly, racism was also part and parcel of this re-emergence in football violence.
In the 60s and 70s black players were often victims of racial assaults on the pitch. This behaviour was not solely confined to the UK; in Germany groups of football fans would attend matches in Neo-Nazi attire. In more recent times, Russia has been singled out for the violent behaviour during football matches. In 2013, Yaya Toure was the victim of racist chants during a Champion’s league match in the Russian capital. Although, a lot of research has been carried out on the subject of football hooliganism, it remains very difficult to gage whether this behaviour is compelled by extremist political conviction, an empty desire to provoke or merely an irrational type of “mob mentality”.
Nevertheless, the 1993 “Let’s kick racism out of football” campaign promised to turn over a new leaf. Over ten years later, Kick it Out is a permanent organisation complete with a mobile application. They report on any incidents which compromise racial equality within football and they provide a platform to report bad behaviour. Despite these efforts, it is still tragic to witness that violence and racial hatred continues to be an issue which Kick it Out must tackle on a weekly basis.
Moreover, the organisation itself has been criticised for not punishing the perpetrators of racial abuse severely enough. Indeed, Joleon Lescott famously has refused to wear a “Kick it out” garment since 2007 as he felt that Emre Belozoglu unfairly avoided sanctions after his racially offensive behaviour towards Joseph Yobo. This not only proves that “Kick it out” should be doing more to banish racism from football; it also shows that racism is not purely an issue perpetuated by fans.
Indeed, racism between top footballers is also problematic. Although Zidane will never be forgotten for the violent behaviour which cost him the 2006 World Cup, many disregard the alleged disrespectful slander which provoked it. Moreover, social media has created a further platform for abuse between players. The FA has had to create a new set of rules to financially sanction players who displayed abusive behaviour through social media. Notably, Rio Ferdinand was fined when he referred to Ashley Cole as “choc ice” on Twitter. All this goes to show that unfortunately, racism and violence still very much have a place in football.
Despite more severe bans on alcohol being served at the stadiums, the struggle against violence is something which needs to be addressed with renewed efforts. Whilst football continues to be a source of joy and unity for millions of fans, any violent minorities need to be severely punished…