Many celebrate soccer as the true global team sport. Yet an international cast of players who move from country to country and team to team find themselves embroiled in a cultural shift towards nationalist pride and racial intolerance. It manifests itself in offensive chants meant to antagonize the players (sometimes even ones on the teams they are there to support). There have been various examples, but a particularly offensive one involves a monkey chant directed at players of African ancestry.
This behavior is most prevalent in European countries, and is hardly new: in 2005, French star Thierry Henry started a campaign to encourage fans to speak up against racist abuse in stadiums. One recent example includes a match in Bulgaria where the English national team went so far as to walk off the pitch.
Italy’s troubling past and present
But according to many, the worst country is Italy, which has a long history of tolerating this kind of behavior. One newspaper, for example, used the headline “Black Friday” as a teaser for two black players playing against each other. Another black player was so offended by monkey chants in Italy that he kicked the ball into the upper deck of the stadium – adding insult to injury, his fans explained away the reason for the chant.
A misguided campaign
The 20 top tier clubs in Italy finally released a statement condemning this type of fan behavior, admitting that they have not done enough to combat it. Then the same officials turn around and offer such solutions as cutting the crowd microphones so television audiences cannot hear the chants. Revealing just how tone-deaf league officials are, a new anti-racist campaign featured a painting of three monkeys. The ensuing backlash poured in.
Double standards in Manchester
Two black players for the famed Manchester United club recently looked elsewhere to play. Despite being well-paid, both felt that their skill and intelligence were second-guessed even as they played up to the highest standards:
“It was always, ‘Yes, but …’ right from the start,” player Romelu Lukaku said. “I scored against Real Madrid in the European Super Cup but missed a chance. It was: ‘But he missed that one.’ I scored against West Ham in my first Premier League game: ‘Yes, but. …’ From then on, I started to wonder how it was going to go.”
Players keep playing
It is not just soccer in Europe. Players across different sports in different places are seeing a surge in bad behavior from fans. Watching and cheering for players who play at an elite level is not enough for some, sadly. The players keep playing, for the love of the sport, for the love of the competition, for the love of a big payday. No amount of money, however, justifies this kind of treatment by fans and leagues.