Racism in Soccer Merely Gets A Slap On The Wrist
Sadly, racism is still a problem in soccer. Across all major leagues in Europe, as well as international competitions, there are countless examples of racism from fans. Chelsea's fans have made racist comments to ex-player Mohamed Salah, Italian fans have abused their national team's players like Mario Balotelli and Moise Kean. Now, Bulgarian fans attacked England's national team.
England's national team has been taking a stand against racism in recent years, with arguably their best player, Raheem Sterling, who was born in Jamaica, being the figurehead of the movement. From Italy to Montenegro, fans have showered the pitch with racial slurs and chants targeted at specific players on England's team, often Sterling.
However, England's Euros qualifier match against Bulgaria on October 14th was likely the worst instance of such conduct. The racist abuse began early and was constant in Sofia, Bulgaria. Tyrone Mings, one of England's center backs said they could hear the chants in warmups prior to the game. The Bulgarian supporters were calling England players monkeys, and were even seen using nazi salutes throughout the match.
Due to the abuse, the game was paused on two separate occasions by the referees, and was close to being ended entirely. Additionally, the Union of European Football Association's (UEFA) protocol says that England could have walked off the pitch and abandoned the match without any punishment. At halftime, England's team used their break to discuss their strategy for defeating the racism, rather than their strategy to win the game. In the end, many analysts argue that England should have walked off the field, abandoning the match and any opportunity for Bulgaria to gain points towards qualification for the 2020 Euros competition.
However, England's players and coaches opted for a different strategy to combat the racism. England took the approach that rather than allowing the racist fans to win and quit the game, they would rather embarrass them. In Montenegro, this meant that England won 5-1, with Raheem Sterling mocking the fans upon scoring the 5th and final goal. In Bulgaria, England easily won 6-0, running up the score and silencing the Bulgarian supporters.
While the actions taken by the Bulgarian fans were disgusting, the lack of a real punishment being enforced by UEFA is equally appalling. UEFA recently announced that Bulgaria's Football Association would be fined 75,000 Euros for the racial abuse. For a fine against an entire country's national team, this equates to almost nothing. For reference, the best soccer players in the world make that amount in two to three days.
This punishment is even more heinous when compared to arbitrary punishments UEFA has given out in the past. One such example is of Nicklas Bendtner in 2012. Bendtner celebrated his goal in a Euros qualifier match against Portugal by showing off his Paddy Power sponsored underwear. While this move by Bendtner did violate UEFA protocol, simply it pales in comparison to the actions of the Bulgarian fans. Nonetheless, Bendtner was quickly fined 80,000 Euros.
The fact that Bendtner, 7 years prior to the Bulgarian incident, was fined more money than an entire national team was for being racist eludes to a disappointing theme within soccer organizations: their decisions always follow money. Bendtner's sponsored celebration threatened UEFA's monopoly over sponsorships in their competitions, so they were obligated to act. However, when faced with a far more drastic issue, without any true financial problem involved, UEFA merely dealt out a slap on the wrist.