Racist abuse of AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli by AS Roma fans in yesterday’s Serie A match caused the official to briefly suspend play. After an PA announcement warning the offending supporters to cease and desist, the game was resumed.
While these things are hardly uncommon in Italian football (or throughout the rest of Europe, for that matter), FIFA dictator-for-life president Sepp Blatter is appalled!
“Appalled to read about racist abuse in Serie A last night,” Blatter tweeted Monday. “Tackling this issue is complex, but we’re committed to action, not just words.”
Blatter added that FIFA’s taskforce against racism and discrimination is “serious about devising a unified approach for FIFA’s 209 members.”
Blah Blah Blahtter. I’m not a big Sepp fan, of course. While he is to be praised for his humanitarian efforts, the pungent aroma of Eau de Fixer follows him wherever he goes. In the case of world football’s persistent racism, I have no doubt that he means what he says – he’d like it to be gone, and FIFA is exploring a variety of remedies. On this I take him at his word.
The thing is, I survey the landscape and as far as the eye can see there’s nothing but inaction. Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri had it about right in the post-match interview:
“Stopping the game doesn’t work. It’s a happy medium and like all happy mediums, it doesn’t do anybody any good.”
The fact is that FIFA (and UEFA) responses to racism have been ineffective because they favor, as Allegri says, the happy medium. The half measure. The symbolic gesture. The sternly worded warning. The slap on the wrist.
The failure to stop an undesired action by an individual or group is a function of either a) a lack of power, or b) a lack of will. There’s not a lot FIFA can do about the racism of fans as they share a pint in the pub after the game, perhaps, but there’s a great deal they can do in the stadiums. For instance, in yesterday’s match the game could have been suspended and resumed later in an empty stadium. AS Roma could be fined and docked points in the standings. If none of these measures achieve the desired result over a set period of time, the club could be relegated to Serie B. And so on.
[UPDATED: It has now been announced that AS Roma is being fined 50K euros by the Lega Calcio. This number represents nearly 3.5/1000ths of a percent of the team’s annual revenue.]
What happens as soon as the governing bodies begin taking meaningful action? Well, the technology exists to monitor every corner of a stadium, and it wouldn’t take long to identify the perpetrators. A club facing the loss of revenue associated with meaningful action would have pegged and permanently banned the perpetrators for life before the crew had the stadium swept.
The club would find itself receiving a lot of help from its more civilized fans, too. There are people in the crowd who don’t want to see their team penalized and you can bet the farm they’d be willing to help finger the troublemakers.
FIFA and UEFA could do these things tomorrow. They might encounter a legal challenge if things progressed far enough, but my guess is that they’d be on solid footing.
But they don’t. Why not? If you have the power to solve a problem and you do not do so, then it can only mean that you lack the will to solve the problem.
We can speculate as to motives all we like, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Racism of the sort directed at Mario Balotelli yesterday persists because it is allowed to persist.
I assure you, Blatter isn’t any more appalled by the actions of those fans than I am by his inaction. Perhaps less bluster, less impotent indignation and more leadership is in order.