By Alexandra Vallas
Tensions are already mounting within the soccer world, and it isn’t just a matter of the Euro 2012 stakes. Amidst the good feelings accompanying the beginning of the soccer tournament, there have arisen reports of racism toward Holland’s black players. The players faced ‘monkey chants’ from spectators during open training sessions in Krakow on Wednesday. The blow was particularly harsh given that the team had just returned from visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp the day before. While the issue has been put to the United European Football Association (UEFA) to resolve, there remains a sense of discomfort and unease among many of the teams engaged in the tournament, including England and France. In particular, Dutch captain Mark Van Bommel was upset with denials of racist chanting during the session.
“You need to open your ears,” Van Bommel said of the denials. “If you did hear it and don’t want to hear it, that is even worse.”
Perhaps the most unsettling part of the potential for racism in the matches is the repercussions it holds for other national teams concerned with racist responses to their players. England manager Roy Hodgson has said that “the risk of racism exists and we will probably have to deal with it,” and the families of two of his players have decided not to attend the games as a result of the issue. Meanwhile, Italy’s Mario Balotelli has threatened to walk off the field in the event of racist remarks, which would result in an automatic yellow card.
Reforms are currently in progress at the tournament to get things under control. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has been addressing public relations concerns and attempted to make amends via a visit to black parliamentarian John Godson. Meanwhile, UEFA decided to put the right to control and determine racial abuse in the hands of their referees. UEFA President Michel Platini has stated that the organization would “certainly support the referee if he decided to stop the game” but also warned players not to take matters into their own hands.
These reforms have not been made public, however. Supposing that the referees have been informed of proper protocols to enforce in the event of racism from spectators, what will the repercussions be? How will the referees know when enough is enough, and when does overzealous team pride turn into a racist assault? It will be a fine line to tread for game officials, particularly in addition to their other possibilities. However, the players also have the right to play a game unimpeded by a crass audience. If that means the referee plays the call on racism a bit more safely and must escort a team off the field to protect the rights of their players, then so be it. One can only hope that these spectators learn to mind their tongues and enjoy the game by the time these teams step on the field.