Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A World Cup...of Hate?

I first heard about this when France's Thierry Henry, arguably one of the best soccer players in the world, got international accolades for talking Nike into bank-rolling a Stand Up/Speak Up campaign against rampant racism at the matches. But I was totally unprepared for the recent rash of news media discussions about the extent and boldness of the activities--still common--that made the campaign necessary.

It's World Cup time, from what I can gather. God knows I'm not tuned into or turned on by sports of any kind really, but the competition began last Friday and will continue until July 9th, with matches in multiple European countries featuring the best "footballers" in the world (including some from the U.S.). The reason I know this information is that I have actually read a couple of lengthy pieces on it, but you know by now, of course, that if I'm writing about it, the subject is not sports--it's race.

Apparently, soccer (called "football" outside the U.S., hence the reference to "footballers" above) has a history of drawing hyper-emotional fans (remember the bloody free-for-alls they finally had to crack down on a couple of decades ago in England?). Well, the powers-that-be finally got the fisticuffs under control more or less, but over the past couple of years, they've begun to admit that there's another little problem they probably should deal with. Racist groups and individuals make the matches hellish for footballers of color. Simon Kuper, a British sports columnist, says "It was seen as all good fun and part of football culture and accepted for a long time." Hmmm. Let's take a look at the good fun he's talking about.

Thousands of fans screaming monkey noises and throwing bananas onto the field when a Black player is trying to make a kick. Entire groups unfurling pro-Hitler banners, complete with swastikas, and using intricate choreography to form human swastikas or even the face of Der Fuhrer in the stands. Teaming up to spit on Black players. Sounds like a barrel of laughs to me. And keep in mind: we're not talking about occasional instances here or certain countries or a few particular people. We're talking about routine attacks.

"In a stadium of 60,000, it's easy to be anonymous," says Jerome Champagne of the Federation Internationale de Football Association. But I've seen photos of young men being allowed to hang a big swastika banner by the fans seated behind them--and their faces in full view. What's up with that? Champagne knows. "The main issue," he goes on, "is not racism within soccer, but racism around soccer." No lie.

So the footballers organize in groups with names like "Kick It Out" (in Britain) and the "Never Again Association" (in Poland), both part of a network called Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE). And there are fans--such as those who formed "Arsenal Against Racism"--who have joined them. Thierry's Stand Up/Speak Up campaign sold four and one-half million black and white wrist bands, raising five million Euros (more than six million dollars!) for anti-racist projects in eleven countries.

Nevertheless, Kuper tells us: "You can still hear people say, 'Oh, it's all good fun." Being spit on is good fun? Hitler is good fun? Gee, and all this time, I liked reading. Just look what I've been missing!

My point is that the Hitler youth and the spitters may represent a relatively small group, comparatively speaking. But they're not the ones calling it fun. They're not doing it for fun. They're doing it to spread an agenda of racist hatred. I understand them. They're sick and, if they're allowed to, they will bring us to mayhem, at least, and destruction, if they can. But the ones that scare me are the "ordinary" people who call it "fun." Would they laugh at being spit on or called an animal? Would they find these situations "fun" if they were happening to their children? Of course not. So what is their agenda?

We still have Nazi's in the U.S. They leaflet campuses on a regular basis in this country. But overall, many European-Americans purport to believe that all that bold and ugly racist stuff is behind us. They might watch the craziness at the soccer matches and pat themselves on the back as being from a nation where that isn't currently happening. But most of them still wink at racist jokes, look away from racist activities in the work place, and would not consider seeing themselves as allies of people of color. So they are probably not much different, in the end, from the Europeans (who look like them) and ignore the "fun" while people of color continue to have their spirits lynched in the name of a sport.

15 comments:

iaintlying said...

I was just reading about the World Cup on ESPN's Page 2. They had one of their writers run a daily blog on it. Of course the blog did not address the issues that you did. I do vaguely remember hearing about
the "monkey business" as were, from the last World Cup. What rattles me is the fact that Stand Up/Speak Up, had to even be created. Geesh people! You think that something as simple as playing would unit instead of incite. I remember as a child playing with all different types of children in my neighbor- hood. When playing kick-ball, we didn't care about color, we just wanted to win!

The truth is, the world as a whole has become damn near desensitized concerning our fellow man. You are right, the people that perpetuate this assinine behaviour and call it "fun", most definitley would not call it "fun' if they were on the receiving end of their own antics. Hate is ugly and it's evil. Worst than that, it can be suttle to the point that people don't recognize it. I want to take a megaphone and tell the whole freaking world to quit goofing off and get real!

The joke is not funny and Racism is not a laughing matter. It harms the perpetrator as much as the victim, if not more so. At least the victim, knows what ails the perp, but when the perp is confronted, their standard reply is either "We didn't mean any harm. We were just having a little fun" or worst, "I don't see what the problem is". Arrgh!

Piscean Princess said...

I had been hearing about this but hadn't taken the time to look into it in depth. Thanks for the 411. Who knew? And just think of all the "fun" we're missing by not being taunted & spit on.

Hillary For President said...

What we need do is boycott world cup until fix this. We need call Hillary Clinton and get her too start sanction's. Than, we use all off are free time to campain for hillary clinton for president.

Thats that i thing, anyway.

Hillary-for-President.blogspot.com

Changeseeker said...

iaintlying:
"at least the victim knows what ails the perp"

Yeah, but if the victim isn't allowed to do anything about what they know, then it's precious little compensation. The footballers of color just have to suck it up and suck it up and suck it up while the "fans" get to do whatever they please. It's screwed up. Creating an organization to "raise consciousness" is crucial, but in the meantime, there's all that spit...

Princess:Let somebody try to spit on you while I'm around. Y'know what I'm sayin'?

H4P: Boy-oh-boy, are you consistent. If we were all as focused on our points as you are, who knows what might happen in this world. :-D

Each-1-Teach-1 said...

I'm glad to see you wrote something on soccer. It's me, Jay Ortiz. Bannana throwing, that's what's been going on latetly. The TV stations are being very careful as to not to show what goes on at the games, but it's still happenning. Keep on writing Prof, I'm reading. My blog will be up by next weekend!! I will keep you posted on the school teacher thing, you'll get an email soon!!!

Changeseeker said...

Hey, Jay! Great to hear from you! And I love your new AKA, as well as the name of your blog. Seems like you're coming out of the fog of your most recent experiences and developing a game-plan to go forward. As men of color so often manage to do. I'm proud of you, son (since I lost my son six years ago, all the young men are sons to me, you know). Hang in there, and yes, for goodness' sake, keep me posted!

Asher said...

It's not just small scale stuff either - Combat 18 (18 in Nazi language stands for Adolf Hitler, ie - the 1st letter of the alphabet and the 8th) who are/were the UK's most notorious neo-Nazi terrorist group, were founded by members of the Chelsea Headhunters, a supporters group for the Chelsea English football team. The Headhunters themselves are openly racist too.

And it's also the players - Paolo Di Canio, an AC Milan player and Italian international, is a fascist himself. To quote Wikipedia:

"Di Canio has had a chequered career, in which time he has won many honours and been selected for his national team, but also been the centre of much controversy, such as assaulting a referee during a game and has recently made Fascist salutes to celebrate his team winning last year's Rome derby against arch-rivals Roma. As he repeated the gesture in the matches against Livorno (whose supporters are markedly communist) and Juventus in December 2005, he was suspended for one game by the Italian Football Federation and fined 10,000 Euros. He is known to be outspoken and passionate, and is famous for his on- and off-field flair. Also he is known to have been part of the Ultras fan group (Lazio's Irriducibili) in his youth and even travelled with the group to away matches, which is quite uncommon among professional football players.

After criticism from most politicians for his fascist gestures, he stated: "I will always salute as I did yesterday because it gives me a sense of belonging to my people." Di Canio also has a tattoo on his arm which reads "DVX", which is the Latin appellative used for former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Duce. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, owner of AC Milan, stated that the salute "did not have any significance" and described the player as 'an exhibitionist but a good lad'. His own team, Lazio, attempted to distance themselves from his actions, claiming that they rejected any "politicisation" of football. Di Canio initially refused to apologize for his actions and claimed that he did not intend to make a political statement. He insists that he is free to communicate with his fans in the manner of his choosing, although Italian law considers Fascist propaganda a crime. Recently, Di Canio has amended his earlier remarks now claiming to the Italian news agency ANSA that "I'm a fascist, not a racist... The salute is aimed at my people. With the straight arm I don't want to incite violence and certainly not racial hatred."[1] He later denied ever having made that comment which was attributed to his lawyer. Later yet, Di Canio agreed to stop using this controversial gesture, in order to avoid any problem this might cause to Lazio."

brownfemipower said...

wow, thanks for posting this, i've had absolutly no *idea* that this sort of hate was going on at the games right now! I always just assumed that that stuff was limited to league play as opposed to world cup stuff--i'm going to be more vigilent now, about noticing things and writing to the networks to hold them accountable for trying to hide this baloney...

Changeseeker said...

Asher: Thank you for this additional information! I have spoken with a number of people about this since I first became aware of it and virtually none of them knew anything about it. Talk about your world-class best-kept secret! If the mass public wasn't compliant with (at least) and supportive of (on some levels) these realities, they wouldn't be hushed as much as they are.

brownfemipower: It's an honor indeed to have you drop by. You got a bad brain on you! And you introduced me to the Pomegranate Queen (another amazing energy) who, in turn, introduced me to the Al-Suhrawardi quote: "If words come out of the heart, they will enter the heart, but if they come from the tongue, they will not pass beyond the ears." Thank you.

Asher said...

Changeseeker - No worries, and sadly thats barely the start of it.

People are definately not averse to ignoring blatant realities when it makes them feel uncomfortable.

The truth of the matter is football hooliganism has always been interlinked with racism, fascism and nazism (not all hooligans are nazis, of course, but there are many linkages and crossovers), especially in Germany (ex-Nazi Ingo Hasselbach's book Fuhrer Ex discusses his taking part in football hooliganism at the same time as he was an extremely high ranking German neo-Nazi and the support that was there) and Britain (such as the aforementioned C18 and Headhunters).

Asher said...

And to add one more thing, anything which encourages blind nationalism to the extent that sport, and football in particular for most parts of the world, is bound to simultaneously encourage xenophobia and racism.

Changeseeker said...

The four general characteristics of fascism are 1) centralization under one man, 2) stringent economic controls, 3) belligerant nationalism, and 4) suppression of the opposition through terror and/or censorship. Your comments help to put the racism played out in the soccer world in the greater context into which it actually belongs. Thanks (again) and keep coming back. I appreciate your input.

Asher said...

I'll definately keep coming back, you've got a good blog!

Will add you to my blogroll on my blog too...

Changeseeker said...

Thanks, Asher. I think you're my first international connection. And your blog is highly thought-provoking. See you over there. :-D

Rob K said...

Um, quite a lot of this article is balderdash. The problems of racism in English football are minimal compared to that in Eastern Europe or some other countries such as Spain. A large contingent of players are black, so, as in France, there are more or less no teams where fans can single out players or be surprised by ethnic diversity within a team. On the flip-side, despite the Asian population, very few professional football players are from that group. Whether this is for institutionally racist reasons is a different point, but believe you me (I'm an english football fan) - ever increasingly, trouble at games is a thing of the past, and racism is very rare at 99% of grounds across the country. i have never seen evidence of it at any game I've ever attended, though I'm aware it exists. however, monkey noises and swastika unfurling is entirely unheard of in the UK. Simple fact.