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Racism in football: Where does the buck stop?

Joe Gorman Columnist

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    Racism has been the dark underbelly of football for decades. We’ve come a long way since the 1980s, where black players were mercilessly hounded by opposing fans, but despite the efforts to promote anti-racism education campaigns, racism still routinely rears it ugly head.

    This week American striker Jozy Altidore – who plays for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar – was the latest player to be subjected to racist chants from opposing supporters.

    The chants came in a Dutch Cup game that was postponed, despite Altidore urging the referee to continue the match.

    The incident comes just weeks after Kevin Prince Boateng, AC Milan’s heavily tattooed Ghanaian striker, made worldwide headlines when he staged a walk-off after being racially vilified by opposition fans.

    Two similar incidents, resulting in very different reactions.

    Boateng stopped mid-dribble, picked up the ball and booted it towards the Neanderthals on the terraces, before walking off the field in protest at his treatment.

    At once, the brave Kevin-Prince became the king of football.

    By contrast, Jozy Altidore bore the brunt of the racist taunts without protest.

    After the game, amazingly, the American was philosophical about the incident: “It’s disappointing these things still happen in this time we’re in, but what are you going to do?”

    “There’s nothing I can do about it,” Altidore lamented, “all I can do is pray for them and hope they become better people.”

    Altidore is either a fountain of forgiveness or is simply not taking the issue seriously enough. For him to show such a level head is baffling.

    But it also raises an interesting question: how best to tackle racism? And to what extent should players themselves be involved in the protests?

    In 1988, John Barnes responded by back-heeling the bananas thrown at him off the field.

    Recently in Australia a racist fan was banned for two years for heckling Wellington Phoenix striker Paul Ifill.

    The Barbadian did his best to continue the match, and later used Twitter to thank the police and the FFA for acting “promptly and professionally” in punishing the Adelaide man.

    In fact, Australian football has a proud history when it comes to black players.

    During the 1960s, a group of Aboriginal footballers including Charles Perkins, Gordon Briscoe and John Moriarty all excelled in state competitions around the country.

    Perkins was adamant that he never felt any prejudice from ‘new Australians’ involved in the game. It was a view echoed by Harry Williams, who was a part of the dominant St. George Budapest side in the 1970s.

    Football in this country is still yet to have it’s own ‘Nicky Winmar’ moment.

    Still, the recent incident in Adelaide, however isolated it may be, is worth monitoring.

    One would hope that if Ifill had walked off the field, he would have received unanimous support from the FFA.

    Unlike FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who despite promises of “zero tolerance” when dealing with racism, criticized walk-offs as a solution, suggesting that Boateng “ran away.”

    Blatter has also in the past suggested that racism can be resolved by a handshake. It’s an old politicians trick – shake your head gravely and speak in platitudes, but do very little to actually address the problem when it comes up.

    If Blatter was serious about zero tolerance, he should have immediately made his support clear for Kevin-Prince Boateng. By questioning the victim, Blatter missed an opportunity to set a precedent.

    While the Italian Federation has since punished the offending fans by forcing their side Pro Patria to play one game behind closed doors, the dithering of the FIFA president had football fans wondering about the game’s leadership.

    Clearly, Blatter is of the view that incidents such as these should be handled after the match, and heavy sanctions should act as a deterrent, not the stoppage of play.

    There is, of course, a danger that footballers may exploit the issue to stage a walk-off when their team is losing. But this kind of mentality implicitly blames the victims.

    Indeed, we’d be wise to remember that this is an issue that transcends football.

    It’s all very easy for the President of FIFA to encourage black players to simply shake hands with their tormentors and get on with it.

    But why should players like Jozy Altidore or Kevin-Prince Boateng have to get on with it?

    If they do decide to turn the other cheek, all power to them. But it’s a decision that should be left up to them, not dictated to them by a Swiss bureaucrat.

    Expecting players to simply ignore racism only trivialises its impact.

    We’re still yet to see a walk-off in a high-profile competitive match. But the time will surely come.

    With the tempestuous Mario Balotelli likely to join Boateng at Milan, it may come sooner rather than later.

    Balotelli, who is an Italian by birth, has been subjected to chants like “there is no such thing as a black Italian” in his own country.

    Balotelli has been vocal in his opposition to racism. He, like Boateng, refuses to turn the other cheek.

    In 2009, Balotelli remarked “it’s a shame that everyone is more upset with me than the people yelling at me.”

    Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini would do well to heed Balotelli’s words. Blaming the victim gets us nowhere.

    Kicking racism out of football should not be a passive struggle, and old white men certainly shouldn’t set its parameters.

    Joe Gorman
    Joe Gorman

    Joe Gorman is a football journalist with a particular interest in sports history. After completing his thesis on football in Australia, Joe started with The Roar in October 2012. He tweets from @JoeGorman_89.

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    The Crowd Says (46)

    • February 1st 2013 @ 7:53am
      Anon said | February 1st 2013 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      Racism in football – in Australia – see Nicky Winmar.

      What they do in America or Russia is their own issue and needn’t be reflected in Australia let alone upon any one code in Australia.

    • February 1st 2013 @ 8:50am
      Savvas Tzionis said | February 1st 2013 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Here is the thing about racsim in football and sport in general.

      The victim may suffer personal humiliation etc, but he is still going to get his million dollars a month pay packet.

      What about the poor third world (90% of the worlds population) who is predominantly non-european? Who is going to stand up for them and the West’s historic treatment of them?

      Priorities all wrong as usual.

      • February 1st 2013 @ 9:44am
        nordster said | February 1st 2013 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        It is a good thing that it is all a bit overstated now. People who are racist these days are figures to be pitied, i really dont feel for the players as much as the deadheads who abuse them (and their offspring). The players can just laugh it off which is all it deserves now …in most countries anyway. Its gay players who probably could use the attention. Amazing there are really no out players at top level when statistically and anecdotally they are there.

    • Roar Guru

      February 1st 2013 @ 9:19am
      Fussball ist unser leben said | February 1st 2013 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      “Racism in football: Where does the buck stop?”

      It stops with society.

      What happens on the pitch, is a football problem.

      What happens in the stands is a society problem.

      The racists in the stands are racists in life. They just happen to be watching a football match when they utter their abusive rants. Do you honestly think, when they go home, or when they’re at parties, or when they’re at bars … they are NOT racist?

      • February 1st 2013 @ 10:44am
        steven said | February 1st 2013 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        I agree Fussball – they remain racists, but the point is they should not be ‘allowed’ to be racists at football grounds.

        • Roar Guru

          February 1st 2013 @ 11:45am
          apaway said | February 1st 2013 @ 11:45am | ! Report


          They’re not “allowed” to be racists – Australia’s anti-vilification laws are pretty strong. It’s a matter of acting on their racism, as Adelaide United did to their great credit.

          • February 1st 2013 @ 12:08pm
            steven said | February 1st 2013 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

            yes, apaway. totally agree. The Adelaide issue was a good template for future actions. I was alluding to the overseas incidents, not Australia.

      • Roar Guru

        February 1st 2013 @ 11:30am
        langou said | February 1st 2013 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        I actually disagree with that. There are certain people who go to sports contests and seem to think that all rules of decency go out the window. Some of the abuse I have heard at A-League, AFL and even cricket matches is disgusting and you know these people would never behave like that on a day to day basis but they seem to think that once they enter a stadium they have a right to behave like that.

        I am sure many of those who make racist chants are not actually racists – they probably don’t have anything against any certain race but they are just trying to get under the skin of the opposition and see it as their duty to abuse the opposition.

        Sometimes I think too much is made of racism in sport and not enough of respect in sport. What I mean is that someone makes a racist comment and people will jump up and down (rightly so). But then someone else yells at the ref as he is walking down the gate ‘you’re an fing c.., you better watch out, don’t wanna show your face around here’ and no one says anything. Surely Racism is a form of personal abuse but is no more hurtful than other forms of abuse.

        • Roar Guru

          February 1st 2013 @ 2:37pm
          Fussball ist unser leben said | February 1st 2013 @ 2:37pm | ! Report


          Hard core racists are the people that worry me the most; not the people, who yell abuse to put a player off his game.

          This video shocked me ..

          For some reason, I thought this group of people would always say “NO” to racist behaviour given the extreme racism they endured.

          But, clearly, even victims of racism can morph into vile racists!

          Human beings are strange creatures.

          • February 1st 2013 @ 6:08pm
            Evan Askew said | February 1st 2013 @ 6:08pm | ! Report

            I wonder if the same hatred would extend to any German, Austrian or Russian player that might be signed by this club?
            Regarding the terrible persecution suffered by the Jewish people in Europe and in the middle east and north Africa, a favourite defamatory device by anti semites was the assertion that all jews were cowards. And I would guess that since the Ghettos, the Einzatsgruppen death squads and the gas chambers of the holocaust, (not to mention the terrible persecution that was set to be unleashed in the USSR if Stalin had lived another couple of years) the Jewish people are not disposed toward taking any crap from people or groups of people who want to exterminate them or persecute them. And this ugly behaviour is a manifestation of that resolve. As the accountant who leads La Familia said, “we don’t hate arabs because they are arabs, we hate them because they want to kill us.”

            • Roar Guru

              February 1st 2013 @ 6:42pm
              Fussball ist unser leben said | February 1st 2013 @ 6:42pm | ! Report


              More Palestinian civilians have been slaughtered by IDF than Israeli civilians slaughtered by Palestinians.

              Beitar’s Russian Jewish owner just signed 2 Muslim players from Chechnyan .. La Familia is incensed by the decision … I think it’s obvious this small group of vile Israeli football fans aren’t only anti-Arab; they hate all Muslims.

              Full story:

              • February 1st 2013 @ 7:18pm
                SkinnyKid said | February 1st 2013 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

                Little closer to home. Go ask the lads at Ajax Aussie Rules Club in Melbourne some of the things they hear every week… Horrendous stuff.

              • February 1st 2013 @ 7:22pm
                Evan Askew said | February 1st 2013 @ 7:22pm | ! Report

                Fuss, I don’t want to go to far into a debate on the Palestinian peace process as this is a sports forum. Suffice to say that your statement that more Palestinian civillians have died at the hands of the Israelie defence force than Islaraeli civilians have died at the hands of suicide bombers is almost certainly correct. The idea expressed by the leader of La Familia that the Arabs are out to kill them is borne out of the belief, held by many Islamic states at the present and in the past, that the Israeli state has no right to exist. I have no idea what people who hold such views intend in order to achieve such goals, but I would wager a pretty penny that It wouldn’t include the orderly deportation of the Jewish population of Israel with full restitution of all their property in Israel. I believe that a policy such as the destruction of the Israel state would include the extermination or deportation of the Jewish population. Hence the over aggressive actions intended to pacify the Palestinian population.
                That is excelent news regarding the signing of islamic players from Chechnya. One hopes that it has the same effect as Mo Johnsonsigning for Rangers did.and leads to more players of muslim background signing for Beitar. Such an outcome can only have a positive influence on the Palestinian peace process and the reaction of La Familia to this news does show that the hostility is directed to the islamic religion in general. Yet it is not only those of Palestine who hate the Jews. Iran and Egypt being notable examples.

              • February 1st 2013 @ 7:35pm
                SkinnyKid said | February 1st 2013 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

                some history.

            • February 1st 2013 @ 8:27pm
              Knight Vision said | February 1st 2013 @ 8:27pm | ! Report

              we can continue to pass on the hatred taught to us by past generations or we can decide that the buck stops with us and be the generation of change. As a young boy I listened to my Grand Fathers tales of the war against the Japanese and took in all the hatred he had for them, as a young man a decided that it wasnt right to have those feeling towards people alive today who had done nothing to me, and I teach my children the same. Hatred / racism is a negative emotion and I dont want my children to grow up in a place filled with it. The buck stops with us.

              • February 1st 2013 @ 10:40pm
                SkinnyKid said | February 1st 2013 @ 10:40pm | ! Report

                really wish I could find the research paper I saw years back the linked all sorts of evidence back to hatred coming from fear.

                People have always used the fear anecdotally but you’ll never hear a homophobe or a racists say they are scared of what they stand against so vehemently.

                Always this research paper really simplified it. Their same group? residents with in a 2km radius of Adelaide airport. If you don’t know Adelaide airport in dead in the middle of western Adelaide, the middle to upper middle class end of town with some patches of serious money. Anyway most Adelaideians are happy with the airport so close to town, its been there longer than most of the houses after all ….. Yet there is a ever present angry residents petition group trying to get it moved.

                So the uni-students saw an opportunity. The survey the residents and found a direct and very distinct correlation between the most loud protesters wanting to move the airport and people with a real fear of flying….

                Racism or most isms really are driven by fear.

    • Roar Guru

      February 1st 2013 @ 9:58am
      Cameron Kellett said | February 1st 2013 @ 9:58am | ! Report

      You can not and will not be able to change the way morals, values, beliefs and ethics are formed in the household. Racism is still a touchy subject as this article clearly indicates. Though only in recent times have we seen the change in humanity and an afro-American has been elected not once but twice. Australia has a female prime minister as,well for the first time.

      So race, colour, gender, ethnicity have all been evolving over time. If you are looking for a definitive answer from us Roarers or anyone else for that matter you will not find it.

      As generations pass and history defining moments such as the American presidency are taught in the schools, the message conveyed out side of the home will help.

      The problem that will develop though is the small minority who are racist will have conflicting times ahead.
      Children learning to conform to societies norms will find it difficult if the message of racism in the home is continually preached.

      I know i’m doing my part in society and I am teaching my child, it starts with us. So thank you Gorman for,addressing this issue, you are very much doing your part.

    • February 1st 2013 @ 10:10am
      Australian Rules said | February 1st 2013 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      Good article.

      The shocking scenes at the Euro Cup should have been enough for FIFA to take real action. Blatter’s response to this issue is just galling for a man at the head of such an organisation.

      • February 1st 2013 @ 10:41am
        Punter said | February 1st 2013 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        You could just say Blatter’s actions are just galling for a man at the head of such an organisation. Not just this issue. This guy is no leader.

        • February 1st 2013 @ 10:51am
          nordster said | February 1st 2013 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          Why is it up to leaders to create change? Fifa are probably doing as much as they can on the positive side, do u think more punishment or sanction will improve things or just give racists martrydom and a platform? Its a broader societal issue which varies by country, region, subgroup…its not up to football to change that directly. Having black or otherwise players is itself footballs contribution to making change, visibility and hero worship among kids of racists. Its too easy to scapegoat and blame fifa or blatter.

          • February 1st 2013 @ 11:37am
            steven said | February 1st 2013 @ 11:37am | ! Report

            humbly disagree, Nordster. The head of FIFA should be setting an example in each public statement he makes. Blatter has been very conservative and reactionary, in my opinion, on this issue.

            • February 2nd 2013 @ 11:29am
              nordster said | February 2nd 2013 @ 11:29am | ! Report

              hes an old man, we’ll have to wait for a replacement to get that president…a female or lesbian prez would do it! They are what they are. I dont find him offensive or even too conservative given his age more buffonish but then i dont put that much stock in leaders to effect change.

        • Roar Guru

          February 1st 2013 @ 11:47am
          apaway said | February 1st 2013 @ 11:47am | ! Report

          No, he’s a corrupt opportunist who is doing as much to destroy the image of the world game as any thick-headed facist in the stands.

      • Roar Guru

        February 1st 2013 @ 10:46am
        Fussball ist unser leben said | February 1st 2013 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        “The shocking scenes at the Euro Cup”

        Which shocking scenes at the Euro Cup are you referring to? I watched every match at Euro2012 and don’t recall any shocking scenes involving racial hatred directed at players.

          • Roar Guru

            February 1st 2013 @ 11:09am
            Fussball ist unser leben said | February 1st 2013 @ 11:09am | ! Report

            @ kellett_1992

            That article clearly refers to incidents BEFORE the Euro2012, which occur in the Polish & Ukrainian leagues.

            Unfortunately, each day, you’re losing credibility in my eyes as a football analyst.

            EDIT: So, you’ve added more articles since the original post. Those were isolated events over a 32 match tournament. I had 4 mates, who went to the games – in both POL & UKR. They did not observe a single racist incident.

            • Roar Guru

              February 1st 2013 @ 11:29am
              Cameron Kellett said | February 1st 2013 @ 11:29am | ! Report

              The article or all three?

              I read the article Fuss, cheers for your heart felt comment though. It’s a shame you didn’t bother to reply yesterday. I would rather lose an argument and learn something from it, rather than being provided with no reply at all. Just makes me wonder what your actual purpose is?

              I know what the article and articles were about thank you! I was simply following the thread of commenting that was started with Australian rules in which I too wish something had of been done..I simply provided links backing what Australian rules said as racism marred the start of the tournament in preparation which training as a team unit in the hosting nations obviously in your book does not count as part of the tournament. Did you just click one link and skim?

              And again thanks for the vote of confidence. I didn’t realise when I started it would come to this.

            • Roar Guru

              February 1st 2013 @ 12:27pm
              Cameron Kellett said | February 1st 2013 @ 12:27pm | ! Report


              Just curious? Do you purposely choose not to reply by ignoring me? Or do honestly have nothing more to add to any discussion we have.. Do you stop commenting because you think you’re right, know you’re right, or you simply don’t like someone actually backing themselves in an argument with you?

              See I can argue about something and get over it by the next day, what I can’t get over though is your constant remarks that i’m sure are aimed at belittling me on an online forum website. I am more than happy to admit when i’m wrong but if your going to start discussion or debate, finish it.

              • Roar Guru

                February 1st 2013 @ 12:37pm
                Fussball ist unser leben said | February 1st 2013 @ 12:37pm | ! Report


                You’re starting to sound like a jilted girlfriend … let’s just say: “It’s not you, it’s me” 😉

                Have a great week end – hope CCM doesn’t embarrass Brisbane too much, tonight. .. but, on form, it looks like there could be carnage.

              • Roar Guru

                February 1st 2013 @ 12:44pm
                Cameron Kellett said | February 1st 2013 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

                You’re one funny sod, I knew exactly what I was doing right there. Was going to be the only way to get a response from you. Hook, line and sinker. But I guess I’ll just have to come to terms with our new found relationship 😉

                Cheers again Fuss, I now know where you stand!

            • February 1st 2013 @ 3:12pm
              Ian said | February 1st 2013 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

              there is quite a bit of niggle here so i’ll stay out of the personal stuff.

              however i’m sure Fuss you actually mean you hope CCM destroy the Brisbane Roar. not too long ago MV were a basket case again.

              carnage in the vicinty of 5-0 perhaps?

              • Roar Guru

                February 1st 2013 @ 3:28pm
                Cameron Kellett said | February 1st 2013 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

                Ian its no niggle, just good old Fuss and young one kellett just doing the usual rounds. I’m over it already :D. Let’s just hope he is too 😀

                Brisbane to beat Central Coast, Heart to beat Victory and Adelaide to beat Wanderers 😀

                Would make my weekend! 😀

              • February 1st 2013 @ 3:44pm
                Ian said | February 1st 2013 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

                tonights game will be interesting for the roar. another new face who may be subbed on late seeing as he only arrived yesterday morning. it takes me 3 days to get over jet lag.

                yeah i’d like to see adelaide get up but wanderers are going along quite nicely. maybe adelaide will lift for their ‘new’ coach.

                hmm. the derby is always a tough one. heart perform well in derbies. victory are in good form.

                what my head says doesn’t agree with my heart.

      • February 1st 2013 @ 10:46am
        steven said | February 1st 2013 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        exactly right – we need more articles like this to make the sporting public aware of the need for debate… and perhaps for a change in governance at FIFA

      • February 1st 2013 @ 1:43pm
        Australian Rules said | February 1st 2013 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

        • February 1st 2013 @ 3:34pm
          BigAl said | February 1st 2013 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

          abuse no doubt, but . . . racial abuse ?

    • February 1st 2013 @ 10:20am
      Freddie said | February 1st 2013 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      Sport can’t be held to account for society’s ills Savvas, but it can take a stand and set the right example. The money an individual earns isn’t the issue.

      In fact, you can argue that football does more for the poor third world than any other sport, as it offers employment opportunities, as players, for anyone, regardless of background. It’s one of the reasons why football is the world game, because all you need to learn how to play it is a ball.

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