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Opinion: Who is really ‘running away’ from racism in football?

After yet another racism scandal in the world of football, The Daily Shift’s Josh Prenderville gives his opinion on how the authorities must deal with the issue…

Running away? Kevin-Prince Boateng refused to stand for being racially abused.

Running away? Kevin-Prince Boateng refused to stand for being racially abused.

“Walk off? No. I don’t think that is the solution.”

Then what is, Mr Blatter?

AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng divided the footballing world this week when he walked off the field after being subjected to racist abuse.

Although the abuse took place in a meaningless friendly against fourth division side Pro Patria, the aftermath has been felt around world football. Players such as Rio Ferdinand and Vincent Kompany have publicly backed Boateng’s actions, and his own AC Milan teammates followed him off the pitch in an act of solidarity, causing the game to be abandoned.

However, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, while stating the obvious – that racism in football needs to be eradicated – said that the act of walking off a football field will not in itself stop racist chanting.

While this in itself is probably true, it seems to be a statement full of hot air. Blatter and his FIFA associates simply don’t have a solution – yet, they shoot down someone who does.

The debate on whether Boateng’s walkout will solve racism in football is one thing – the debate on FIFA’s punishments for racism is another.

Pro Patria were subsequently ordered to play one game behind closed doors as punishment for racially abusing a man – a criminal offence.

One game, Mr Blatter?

Just days after Blatter’s dismissal of Boateng’s methods, FIFA ordered the Hungarian national team to play one game behind closed doors for anti-Semitic chanting during a friendly with Israel.

One game, Mr Blatter?

In the same hearing, Bulgaria were ordered to play one game behind closed doors after being found guilty of racially abusing Danish defender Patrick Mtiliga “each time he touched the ball” in a World Cup qualifier in October of last year.

I ask you again, Mr Blatter. One game?

For those who believe that Sepp Blatter does not have the authority to change FIFA regulations, or to make punishments more severe, think again. It is the equivalent of saying that Barack Obama does not have the power to change laws in America.

In 2008, the Croatian FA were fined just over €18,000 when a section of Croatian fans racially abused English striker Emile Heskey.

For anyone who knows anything about footballing economics, this would not even dent the wallets of the bigwigs in Zagreb.

Admittedly, that was nearly five years ago and yes, FIFA punishments have become more severe. FIFA have in some aspects realised that their previous punishments were not enough. They relented.

Indeed, they relented so much so, that Nicklas Bendtner was fined €100,000 at Euro 2012 after revealing the logo of a leading bookmaker on his underwear. He had breached advertising and marketing regulations of football’s governing body. This was one of the largest fines to have ever been handed out by FIFA.

However, in October of 2012, in a match involving England and Serbia Under 21s, English defender Danny Rose was racially abused by sections of the Serbian crowd. After the match had ended, he responded by kicking the ball into the crowd and sarcastically clapping them. Serbian players intervened, and Rose’s English teammates came to his aid. Soon even the coaches were brawling.

In December, the Serbian FA were fined just €80,000. Worse still, two English players – Steven Caulker and Thomas Ince – were banned for two games and one game respectively for essentially coming to a teammate’s aid.

Mr Blatter, do you and your FIFA colleagues honestly believe that monkey chanting towards black players and general racist abuse are four fifths of the crime that displaying a company slogan on your underwear is?

Judging by your punishments, you do.

“I don’t think you can run away, because eventually you can run away if you lose a match.”

Mr Blatter, do you honestly believe that abusing somebody as a result of their colour, creed, race or religion is, in any way shape or form, akin to a football game?

Do you honestly believe that walking off the pitch after being racially abused and walking off the pitch because you have a lost a match are the same thing, Mr Blatter?

“”The only solution is to be very harsh with the sanctions – and the sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar.”

Indeed. I agree 100%, Mr Blatter. You have the power. Do it.

The reality is though that, unfortunately, this will not happen at any stage in the near future, Mr Blatter. Why? Because you and your FIFA workmates lack consistency. Even further than that, you lack any sense of reality.

The sane solutions – throwing out the minority of fans giving the abuse, banning them – have been exhausted. It is up to FIFA, as governing body of world football, to come up with a way of cutting this disease out of what is, on this occasion, the not-so-beautiful game.

Racism is a criminal offence. Let’s not dress it up any other way. If you or I went out on the street and uttered a racist remark, we would be charged with a racially aggravated public order offence. Rightly so, may I add.

When a criminal offence is committed, the punishment must appropriately do just that to the offender – punish them. It must also, in some way, serve a sense of justice to the victim. No matter how many thousands of euro you fine various different football associations, Mr Blatter, they will find more money. They are very rich people – like yourself. Besides, it is not the football associations committing these crimes – and therefore it is akin to putting an innocent man into jail if the money isn’t coming out of the back pockets of these racists.

Furthermore, what sense of justice does it give Kevin-Prince Boateng to find out that these racist bigots simply cannot attend one game. They can go to the next one. And the one after. And the one after that. The punishment is no different to a fan being sick or ill on one given Saturday.

So let’s take points off them, Mr Blatter. Take points off of the fans of these offending teams. Teams are given automatic point deductions for entering administration, aren’t they? Administration isn’t the fans’ fault, but it still happens. Administration is also not a criminal offence, unlike racism.

Mr Blatter, please don’t issue hot air statements any longer. If you’re going to criticise Kevin-Prince Boateng for walking off the field, at least come up with a better solution first. And if you’re going to come up with a solution, make it an appropriate one, and please implement it properly and consistently. You have the power to eliminate this ignorance from a game that is considered an international language unto itself.

Perhaps it isn’t Kevin-Prince Boateng that’s running away, Mr Blatter. Perhaps you are.

*Lead image courtesy of thesun.co.uk
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About Josh Prenderville

Studying journalism in the University of Limerick... living the dream as they say! 20, Irish, from Hospital in Limerick (a town not the medical place)... 'bout it. I'm sports editor for The Daily Shift website. I'm also on Twitter @JoshPrender7, don't be afraid to give me a follow.

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