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Racism in Sports – Kick it Out!

The delayed Euro 2020 that came to an end last Sunday brought about much joy to millions of follows across the world.

Some fans were even lucky enough to witness the games live, something over the last couple of months was not possible owing to COVID-19.

The final whistle of the match brought about a tale of two ends.

On one end the Italian players and their supporters celebrated well into the early hours of the next day, whilst at the other end the English players found themselves in a déjà vu situation once more.

What followed next for some English players was a scene that completely goes against all sporting principles. Three English players who had their respective spot kick either saved or missed found themselves on the receiving end of vile racist abuse which was further intensified thanks to the disposal of various social media platforms.

Such scenes stole part of the limelight from what should have been a football celebration whereby the winners showcase their trophy and revel in the special moment with the final bringing down the curtain on an exhausting but exhilarating football season.  

Racism in sports is not something new.

Whilst sports is intended to bring about positive impacts, it is sometimes an area in which racism and racial discrimination can thrive, which as a result taints the image that sports tries to portray, despite the best efforts of many who try to eradicate such unwanted occurrences from taking place in the first place.

Racism has become increasingly evident of late in some fields of sport, most notoriously during football matches.

At the same time, players being targeted in such racism attacks have started to be more proactive, even threatening to leave the field of play should the referee decide not to abandon the match (as witnessed in a Champions League match involving PSG and Basaksehir).

Following a horrific racist attack that took place off the pitch in America late last year, NFL players have also started to take the knee before the start of a match in a symbolic gesture.

Such incidents unfortunately bring the sport concerned to shame by tainting a negative image and encouraging fans, players and sometimes sponsors to seek pleasures elsewhere, leaving the authorities concerned scrambling to try and combat such incidents and many losing out on potential earnings.

Often clubs are fined heavily for the irresponsible behaviour of some of their supporters when such money could have easily been invested in the club’s structure and operations.

Educational and awareness campaigns, such as English football’s equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out campaign, desperately try to remove racism and discrimination from occurring by challenging discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaigning for positive changes.

UEFA currently adopts a three-stop procedure to combat instances of racism or discrimination from taking place during any football match which grant referees the possibility to abandon a match.

Initially the referee would be propelled to halt play and a stadium announcement to be made over a public address system requesting fans to stop such malicious chants and gestures.

Failure to cease such barbaric acts will result in the match being suspended for a reasonable period of time and both teams being escorted to their respective dressing rooms for the matter to settle.

As a final resort, should such racist behaviour continue to persist after the restart of the match, the referee can abandon the match concerned.

Should any of the stop measures be used, the case will be referred to UEFA’s respective disciplinary bodies for further action to be taken against the culprits involved.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) also has in place a set of codes and regulations to curb this practice, including a confidential conciliatory and disciplinary procedure.

Other international sport federations and national associations adopt similar disciplinary codes and punishments to try and eliminate occurrences of racism and discrimination from occurring in their respective sporting events. 

Such punishments include imposing bans on the supporters causing such unrest, possibly even lifetime bans, and also the possibility of imposing stadium bans on all supporters for a number of home matches of a particular team.

In extreme cases, sporting bodies have also imposed point deductions on clubs for their failure to keep their fans under control. Such sporting bodies place a high level of responsibility on each team to ensure that their fans behave themselves and if any troublesome incidents occur, the club to whom such fans belong will also be punished.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance even calls on Member States of the European Union to ensure and encourage equal opportunities in access to sport for all, and combat racism and racial discrimination within sport.

There is an urgent need to roll out a global co-ordinated crackdown which in turn will seek to send a strong message to fans, players, coaches and match officials that such conduct is not acceptable and a zero-tolerance policy must be imposed for such acts to finally be kicked out of sports once and for all.

To achieve this, such global co-ordination will need to ensure that lengthy bans, possibly for life, and substantial fines and imprisonment will be imposed against those who engage in such kind of barbaric activities.

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