Liverpool: Europa League Opponents Zenit St Petersburg Should Be Kicked Out
Sadly, the ugly scar of racism has reared itself on the face of the beautiful game yet again. The most recent high profile episode of what is becoming an all too common theme in European football happened in St Petersburg, Russia. In a story covered widely by the British press this week, a spokesperson for the Russian giants stated that not signing black and gay players was a part of Zenit St Petersburg's tradition and nationalist identity. The club have done enough to demonstrate that these are views of a minority. Former player Alexander Panov came out denouncing calls for an all white Zenit squad. And the club itself took action on senior player Igor Denisov after he expressed his displeasure at the signings of Brazilian Hulk and Belgian Alex Witsel. Denisov was dropped to the reserves when he issued an ultimatum forcing the club to pay him the same as the Brazialian international. Credit goes to Zenit on their stance and action, but the problem remains. Panov points this out perfectly when he said 'the fans have a right to go to the stadium or stay home.' Bigoted minorities are still able to enjoy the privilege of watching football and express their racist views on a national platform. And this is not just a problem for Zenit or Russian football.
The question has been asked a lot recently. What can football do to get rid of racism? Well, there are things football cannot do. Football cannot stop a fan who cheers his black centre forward on a Saturday from going to a Combat 18 rally on a Sunday. They are some societal issues too big for football. But what football can, nay must do, is ensure overt racists are not allowed anywhere near the game. Football holds a privilaged position in Europe, being the most participated and spectated sport on virtually every nation of the continent. This has brought great rewards. Financial rewards. Rewards that the continental governing body UEFA has proved they will go a great deal to protect. At no point was this made more clear than when Danish striker Nickas Bendtner was fined £80,000 for exposing the name of a none UEFA affiliated bookmakers after scoring at Euro 2012. Some £15,000 more than the Serbian FA were fined for racist abuse used by their under 21 players in a match against England. And here we see the problem with UEFA's current approach to dealing with racism in the game. Why put a monetary value on the dignity of a man? The idea just seems nonsensical when you think about it. I understand the idea of creating a deterent to racist behaviour and showing it will not be accepted. But what bigger deterent than taking the game away from those who choose not to respect all those who participate in it? A simple, zero tolerence, kick them out approach. Stop the minority of fans who display open racsim from to games. Ban clubs who have done little or nothing to curb fan racism from participating in UEFA competition. Take the same approach with associations who do not take a tough enough stance on racism in their domestic league.
Unlike fines, bans have a proven record of working and aiding UEFA get rid of the nastier apsects of football whih nobody wants to see. Specifically, the ban on English clubs participating in European football between 1985-95 after the Heysel disaster. English football no longer has the reputation of hooliganism it once did, and now the time has come for Europe to take the lead from England. Two weekends ago, it took little more than 10 minutes for a fan accused of using racist language to be identified and arrested during a Premier League game between Swansea and Norwich. This is sign of the zero tolerance approach which has made England the leading nation in tackling racsim in football. As a regular match goer, I am lucky to not have experienced racism at football. Not to say our league is perfect. Casual anti Semitism is still far too common a site. But I have little doubts that if the FA decided to crack down, we would see quick results. There is no excuse for allowing bigots to ruin the game we all love. UEFA have no defence for not stopping those who hold and express abhorrent views from enjoying football. There is a well known musical acronym that says Every Good Boy Deserves Football.
UEFA have not only the power, but the responsibility to take football away fromthose not deserving. The price for attempting to reduce the humanity of another man, which is what racism is, should not be monetary. Or at least not monetary alone. I would like to think racists are a minority in football. So if we really want to kick it out, the only real solution is to kick them out. One by one if we have to!
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