Serbia, England and racism in football

From a home nations point of view it’s sad to reflect that the big issue in the recent round of fixtures is the fact that it kicked off big-style at the Serbia v England u-21 match (hat-tip to Sweden for their utterly implausible comeback though……..)

Unfortunately we have had to get used to the racist abuse black players suffer when they play in parts of Eastern and Southern Europe. The national and international football authorities thus far have done little to curb the problem. Either they don’t particularly care or are in serious denial. Witness the outrageous statement from the Serbian FA after the aforementioned match:

“The FA of Serbia absolutely refuses [sic] and denies that there were any occurrences of racism before and during the match at the stadium in Krusevac.

Making connection between the seen incident – a fight between members of the two teams – and racism has absolutely no ground and we consider it to be a total malevolence.

Unfortunately, after the fourth minute of the additional time and the victory goal scored by the guest team, unpleasant scenes were seen on the pitch.

“And while most of the English team players celebrated the score, their player number three, Danny Rose, behaved in [an] inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar manner towards the supporters on the stands at the stadium in Krusevac, and for that he was shown a red card.”

We are expected to believe that the racist abuse that the Serbian FA are tacitly admitting occurred in this statement only began at the end? There’s quite a lot of witness testimonial and footage to suggest otherwise, lads. Nice try though………..

Danny Rose and (the white) Connor Wickham in particular have been singled out for their confrontational attitude. I can only say: well done them. It is scandalous that they are being condemned for taking a stand and I hope the FA stand fully behind them if any punishment is sanctioned by UEFA.

So what now?

The calls for Serbia to be punished severely (i.e. banned from international football) have been very loud, and in many respects I can empathize with the sentiments behind those calls. For too long people in positions of authority in Serbia and UEFA have been sitting on their hands and it is time for something drastic.

However, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Firstly, is English football so squeaky clean and free of racism that we can start getting on our high horses and lecturing other nations about their behaviour? I would respectfully suggest not, as John ‘fucking black cunt’ Terry will amply testify.

Secondly, any ban is likely to be counterproductive. As Jonathan Wilson points out in a typically thoughtful and well-researched piece in the Guardian, a ban could well make things worse and play into the hands of the racists. It would do little to actually challenge the views of the bigots. I would go further than Wilson though and suggest that a ban is unacceptable under any circumstances.

Thirdly, I’m instinctively opposed to collective punishments, be they bans or points deductions. Denying all Serbs the right to see their team play competitively because of the actions of a few mindless thugs is counterproductive, as I’ve just suggested, but also morally wrong.

The majority shouldn’t be punished for the sins of the few, and that goes for the fans and the players.

Which leads me onto my fourth argument, and I suppose this is the least important consideration if I’m totally honest; it would be a tragedy if a highly talented Serbian team was unable to realise its potential because of the actions of a small number of fans the other night. The break-up of the potentially awesome Yugoslav team of the late 80s and early 90s was a great loss from a purely footballing point of view, and this has the potential to be a depressing repetition of that.

Clearly politics cannot be separate from sport, but at least we can try and ensure that politics doesn’t prevent the playing of sport.

To me there is only really one solution that takes into account the severity of what happened, the need for a response and also the need for fairness: Serbia must be forced to play their home internationals behind closed doors for the foreseeable future.

Black players have the right to expect not to be treated like they were last night when they play, but all Serbs shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush and collectively punished.

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