Coats for goal posts? Oh yes

Phew, that’s that out of the way then! The football. Now it’s just the tennis, the cricket (remainder of), the Olympics, the start of the new football season ….

Your non-sport-loving correspondent didn’t watch any football these past two weeks (obviously) but my ears did prick up when I heard that team captains had been reading out “Unite Against Racism” messages ahead of matches as part of a UEFA campaign.

Really kicking racism out of football is going to taking a long time. I remember the monkey noises (and homophobic and misogynystic chants) on the “Kop” at Highfield Road in the 70s. And the 80s. People take a long time to change and attitudes are deep-rooted.

Leaving to one side the particular debate about whether Spain’s manager Luis Aragones has been guilty of racism (and of course also leaving aside the infamous former Coventry boss, Big Ron Manager), the point is that football can be a barometer for a society, but not a very accurate one.

The Turkish columnist Ayse Karabat has got a good new column on the football/racism/nationalism topic relating to Turkey. He thinks things are getting better. Turkish supporters are less nationalistic and macho. It was, of course, racist behaviour from Croatian fans during a match against Turkey recently that caused UEFA to impose a fine. As Ayse says, soccer is never just soccer – it’s where you also get an insight into what your country is like and how it sees itself.

So, I don’t pay much attention to football but it’s still interesting to read that after their big Euro 2008 win over the Netherlands Moscow's Russians “went bananas”, with “500,000 ecstatic fans in the city's streets. No one was arrested during a full night of celebrations. The police were too busy partying alongside the supporters.”

I’m not so sure I could say the same had that been half a million England fans! But football supporters are sometimes violent and they’re sometimes racist, but it’s not straightforward.

Take Russia again. Russia fans don’t appear to be rabidly racist or violent. But Russian society (particularly in the big cities) is definitely going through some sort of racism crisis at the moment. The Guardian reports today on the case of a teenage skinhead gang that may have killed as many as 20 people because they were “dark-skinned” and came from the Caucasus. Not long ago Amnesty produced a whole report about this – and we’ve got a new one on endemic racism in neighbouring Ukraine out next week as well.

One of my favourite ever bits of television is The Firm – an incredible one-hour tv drama about east London football hooligans. Check it out. It’s got a searingly brilliant performance from Gary Oldman. The Firm are violent but actually not racist. And they don’t really care about football either. For them it’s the “buzz” of tribalistic violence itself. At the end they’re preparing for some European “action” (violence), with England playing in a major tournament. But as they say – if “they stop us going to the football, we’ll go to the cricket, the darts … they’ll never stop us”.

So – football can be just a vehicle for violence, and racism can be the expression of and justification for it. It’s not easy to eradicate violent impulses but what we should be saying is: let’s kick racism out of society (ours, Europe’s) and not just out of football.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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