Chanting on the terraces in England and Spain raises questions for society about racism and prejudice
The message for 2016 must be clear: there is absolutely no place for racism and discrimination in football, and we all – footballers, clubs, fans, organising bodies and authorities - have to join forces in this fight.”
The year of 2016 is only a few days old and already examples of prejudice, discrimination and racism are being reported by the media in the UK, across Europe and throughout the world.
Acts of prejudice towards black people, Muslim people, those fleeing international conflicts and many others by members of the public & so-called public figures alike were common throughout 2015 and sadly it appears that 2016 has started in the same vein.
Two such examples of prejudice have been reported as being perpetrated by football fans at matches both here in the UK and in Spain’s La Liga. A section of fans (conflicting reports suggesting figures from tens of fans up to ‘hundreds’) have been accused of Islamophobic chanting linking elements of Bradford’s population to the terrorist organisation Daesh during a game between Sheffield United and Bradford City during the Christmas period.
In a separate incident it was a player, Barcelona’s Brazilian striker Neymar who was reportedly the target of racist abuse from a number of Espanyol fans, something which has subsequently been denied by the club’s chairman.
When incidents such as this occur, there can be a tendency among some media outlets and social commentators to paint a picture of football fans as somehow being intrinsically racist, often overlooking the fact that football fans are also members of society, and the fact that being a supporter of a football team is only one aspect of their identity.
Historically, a variety of societal issues have manifested themselves in chanting at football matches so it should perhaps come as no surprise that given the high-profile events of 2015 involving Daesh (the chant referred to the group by the name they have chosen for themselves – Isis) that a reference has made its way into the thinking of individuals who attend football matches.
Of course, this does not mean that the actions of these individuals should not be strongly condemned; there is absolutely no place for prejudice and discrimination based on skin colour, nationality, religion or culture in football or indeed in society as a whole, but neither is it helpful to consider the issues as a problem for football specifically.
The timing of the incident which occurred at Bramall Lane coincides with the now anticipated rise in Islamophobic attacks on unconnected members of Muslim communities following international incidents such as those which occurred in Tunisia and Paris in 2015.
At Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) we believe that is it more valuable to look at why certain aspects of racism, including Islamophobia, have become so socially acceptable that they are making their way into the consciousness of people who feel it appropriate to carry out acts of prejudice towards others which are often based on little more than a single factor like skin colour or religion.
SRtRC condemn in the strongest terms the alleged actions of what are typically a small minority of individuals, and welcome the actions of both fans and players in reporting the incidents, and clubs like Sheffield United who have reacted quickly to open an investigation; strongly criticising the actions and promising to punish those who are found to be guilty.
We echo the sentiments of our international partners FIFPro – the world players union – who have released the following statement regarding the two recent incidents:
“FIFPro, speaking on behalf of all professional footballers worldwide, is sad to hear and see 2016 start with a clear example of racist abuse. The message for 2016 must be clear: there is absolutely no place for racism and discrimination in football, and we all – footballers, clubs, fans, organising bodies and authorities - have to join forces in this fight.”
“Whether it is Neymar – the Brazilian star of club world champions FC Barcelona who was targeted by fans of Espanyol - or whether they are the fans of Bradford City – who allegedly got abused by a small section of Sheffield United supporters that sang racist chants – everybody deserves equal respect and nobody must be subjected to the disgusting and barbaric behaviour of a loud minority.”
“FIFPro cannot and will never tolerate racist abuse. The world players union calls on all professional footballers to report any abuse they are confronted with, requests all fans to single out the hooligans in the stands, and urges all clubs, authorities and organising bodies to create the structure that will keep racism away from the game we love.”
SRtRC believes that Islamophobia will continue to be an issue which invades all aspects of society if we do not challenge ourselves to think critically about whether the actions of a tiny proportion of individuals can be said to represent the ideas of over one and a half billion people world wide who identify as Muslim.
Such assumptions and stereotypes form the basis of prejudice which can be the foundation for racism. Interestingly, the actions of a few can also shape the way people think about other groups i.e. football fans, the overwhelming majority of whom we feel will join us in condemning racism in all its forms.