Once again, football has reminded us that it is out-of-step with the real world. In Britain, the politically-motivated Terry-Ferdinand debate opened our eyes to the fact that racist comments on the field of play still exist. The problem is, anything that remotely resembles a hint of racism is now over-amplified, creating embarrassing scenes like the Hodgson-Townsend affair.
What happened in Russia this week, with Manchester City’s Yaya Toure receiving abuse from the CSKA supporters, was unacceptable and highlights that some parts of the world, indeed, Europe, are not as advanced in realizing that racism is bad behaviour.
Anyone who has circulated a football club will know that such comments are still frequent, often meant to be harmless but as the generations change, more likely to cause offence. Where once “playful” comments were part of the social order, they now become interpreted as “racism” – just talk to any intelligent young person between the ages of 15-25 and if you’ve grown up in the 1960s or 1970s, many of your attitudes and expressions will be translated as unacceptable by “Gen Y” as it is now called. It will take time for these to be washed out of the system as older people retrain their vocabulary.
You don’t have to go to Moscow to hear racism in a football crowd. It’s present everywhere and in some very enlightened societies. For example, I was in Denmark recently and heard “monkey chants” when a black player advanced down the flank with the ball – on more than one occasion. And we’ve seen what goes on in Italy. But I have heard small pockets of abuse at Chelsea and Brighton this season. The difference is that it is no longer vocalized to the extent that it has been heard in Russia. There are no bananas on the field in Liverpool anymore, which shows some progress has been made. But let’s not pretend it doesn’t go on in Britain – ask people like Chris Hughton.
But what do we do about CSKA Moscow? What do fines me to a club so wealthy. Russia does have an ongoing problem with racism, as evidenced by Roberto Carlos’ treatment when he played there and also players like Peter Odemwingie. It is not just confined to sport.
It’s another PR own goal for Russia, coming hot on the heels of the threats made by people to boycott the Russian winter Olympics due to the country’s treatment of homosexuals. Get the message about intolerance? Now players are talking about boycotting the 2018 World Cup. It’s a little early, and Yaya, by the way, will probably not be going anyway. But that’s not the point.
FIFA will be reluctant to be too hard on Russia. Along with the Middle and Far East, it’s where the money is flowing into the game from and they won’t want to compromise that. And its clear that CSKA have sent Toure’s Ivory Coast team-mate, Seydou Doumbia into the media to claim that Yaya was “exaggerating”. He may well have been sensitive, he’s entitled to be – but that suggests there were racist comments in the first place, and if one person is offended by such antics, then it is one person too many. Once again, FIFA’s selection process will be brought into question.
*With apologies to Noel Coward