Sport is used as a distraction, a pass time, something people love because it provides them with a world away from the one they live in day to day. In the UK, the nation’s favourite pass time is football, and while it has become big business for those involved, for fans at home, it remains a passion and a form of entertainment. Unfortunately, following #Chelsea’s match at Paris Saint Germain last night, Blues fans did just the opposite, attracting unwanted attention with their abhorrent behaviour on a Paris subway. They were filmed by a member of the public, refusing to let a black man enter the carriage on the Paris train. As the man attempted to get on, the Chelsea supporters were filmed repeatedly pushing him off the train, before chanting, ‘We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it’. Their disgraceful actions led to other black passengers getting off the train, all of which was caught on camera.
The video is shocking and the behaviour sickening, but what is even more disturbing is the fact that is was not an isolated incident. Prior to the match on Tuesday, Chelsea fans were accused of walking through Jewish neighbourhoods of the French capital chanting anti-semitic songs as well as making hissing sounds so as to imitate the sound of gas leaking. It is unclear whether the group involved in the two incidents is the same or not. The vile actions of the fans have ruined any pleasure football lovers might have taken from what was an exciting encounter between two of Europe’s best teams at the Parc des Princes. But more importantly, it was a harsh reminder that racism is still ripe in English football and the criticism from the footballing world has been quick and justified.
Current BBC presenter and former England international, Gary Lineker, has labelled the supporters’ action, “sickening, embarrassing, moronic and disgraceful”. Meanwhile, former Blackburn striker and BBC pundit, Jason Roberts, tweeted a particularly significant comment: “I hope that every black Chelsea player watches that…” His point is a strong one, Chelsea currently have 12 black players in their current squad, while the number of foreigners in their team is 22. Not only, Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, is Jewish and is chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. It would certainly be interesting to know what their reaction to both the subway incident and the fans making hissing sounds in Jewish neighbourhoods of Paris would be.
The UK has worked hard to eliminate such behaviour in fans, banning hooligans from stadiums for life, and issuing hefty fines and bans to anybody caught making racist gestures or comments. In fact, in general, there have been very few incidents of racism in the stands at English football grounds for some time, this unlike other countries in Europe where it is plainly visible. In Spain, the most recent and perhaps most famous incident was during a match between Barcelona and Villarreal in April 2014. Barcelona defender Dani Alves was targeted by opposition fans who threw a banana at him, he proceeded to pick it up and take a bite of it. The reaction to it led to a campaign against racism that went viral. While the incident certainly led to a positive message, it also showed that racism still has a strong presence in Spanish stadiums. The same can be said for Italy, in 2013, Kevin Prince Boateng became the first player to halt a match due to racism, he led AC Milan teammates off the pitch after 25 minutes of a friendly match against Pro Patria following a series of racist chants aimed at him. In 2014, Kevin Constant and Nigel De Jong had bananas thrown at them when AC Milan visited Bergamo based team, Atalanta. Given the progress that has been made in the UK, it is hard to believe that episodes such as these still occur around Europe, but the lack of clamping down in the countries allows for it to happen.
Unlike Spain and Italy, the UK has largely succeeded in kicking racism out of stadiums, in fact, the issue for the Premier League in recent years has been on the pitch. Ex-Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was accused of racially abusing ex-Manchester United defender, Patrice Evra during a match in 2011, the Uruguayan international was later fined £40,000 and banned for eight matches. In 2012, Chelsea themselves made shockwaves when they accused referee Mark Clattenburg of directing racial language at their midfielder Jon Obi Mikel - although Clattenburg was cleared by the Football Association. Given the general lack of racism in recent years, both UEFA and the UK will want to ensure those responsible for this incident are dealt with swiftly and harshly. #Society