Racism in football remains deeply rooted, the Vinícius case shows. Will the Anglo-Saxon world help us out of the doldrums?

The incident with Real Madrid player Vinícius shows once again how difficult it is to eradicate racism in football. Experts advocate a more resolute approach based on Anglo-Saxon principles.

Dieter DeCleene

“Mono, mono, mono” (Spanish for ‘monkey’), is hurled at Real striker Vinícius during the Valencia-Real Madrid match. The referee does not intervene and after an altercation with Valencia players, Vinícius has to go to the side with a red card moments later.

The latest example of racism in football is reminiscent of what happened to Romelu Lukaku last month during the Juventus-Inter Milan match. There are jungle sounds and racist chants, but it is Lukaku who is punished: after a second yellow card for celebrating a goal ‘too provocatively’, he has to leave the field.

“It was not the first time, not the second time, not the third time,” Vinícius responded on Instagram after last Sunday’s incident. “Racism is normal in La Liga. The league thinks it’s normal, so does the union and the opponents even encourage it.”

According to football journalist Frank Van Laeken, he touches on a crucial element in the fight against racism in football. “First of all, you have to want to see the problem and want to do something about it,” says Van Laeken, who wrote the book together with former football player Paul Beloy. Dirty black – racism in Belgian football wrote.

null Image REUTERS

<span class="artstyle__figcaption__credit">Image REUTERS</span>

relative racism

The incidents are in stark contrast to what happened to our compatriot Dante Vanzeir (New York Red Bulls). After he would have shouted something racist to an opponent, the match is stopped for 20 minutes. Although an investigation by the American Football Association shows that Vanzeir had no racist intentions, he will still receive a six-match suspension, a fine and must follow a recovery process.

“The resolute approach in the US shows how things should be done,” says Van Laeken. “With us, football associations and clubs still too often tend to ignore and minimize problems.”

He refers, among other things, to the incident in which former Anderlecht coach Vincent Kompany was called a ‘brown monkey’ in December 2021. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence. Racist supporters are still too often unaffected, believes Beloy. “Those people are often known at the clubs, but are left untouched.”

According to Van Laeken and Beloy, the British Premier League plays in a higher class in the fight against racism. Luis Suárez, for example, was suspended for eight games in 2011 after a detailed investigation and fined £40,000 for racist remarks. “Cameras are also used to identify and punish racist supporters,” says Van Laeken. “Every incident is taken seriously.”

Romelu Lukaku has been sent off for celebrating a goal too provocatively while responding to racist chants.  Image AFP

<cite class="artstyle__figcaption__caption">Romelu Lukaku has been sent off for celebrating a goal too provocatively while responding to racist chants.</cite><span class="artstyle__figcaption__credit">Image AFP</span>

In Dirty black Van Laeken and Beloy make eleven concrete proposals to tackle racism. Among other things, they advocate stopping the game in the event of any racist incident. If the referee does not intervene, a player who is a victim of racism must be able to leave the field without sanction – something Vinícius said he considered, but did not do – if necessary together with the entire team. The team whose supporters are racist should be punished with a flat defeat. “Such measures stimulate social control, because they also irritate non-racist supporters,” says Van Laeken.

The fact that the Anglo-Saxon countries are leading the way is, according to Beloy, partly because society as a whole is more sensitive to racism. “If politicians declare that racism is relative, it is not surprising that you also have problems in football,” says Beloy. “In addition, not only the teams, but also the boardrooms are more diverse. As long as they remain mainly white, racism will not be the main concern.”

Mouthy bystanders

Nevertheless, according to Pro League spokesperson Stijn Van Bever, major steps have also been taken with us. In 2021, the Pro League and the Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) launched the Come Together action plan, with the same name reporting center for discrimination. Supporters who cross the line have since had to follow a specific route in the Holocaust and Human Rights Museum before they are allowed to enter the stadium again. “All complaints are further followed up, and racism is subject to a standard sanction of two to ten years in the stadium ban,” says Van Bever. “But incidents in which things are said are often difficult to prove afterwards.”

It helps that these are usually not one-off incidents. “If we receive a report that someone is systematically racist, we have a plainclothes steward determine that,” says Wim Beelaert of the KAA Gent Foundation. “We also try to objectify files with testimonials and camera images.”

KAA Gent is a pioneer by offering bystander training in all Ghent football clubs since last year, an approach that the club hopes to roll out in the rest of Belgium as well. Supporters, trainers and volunteers can learn how to intervene in the event of racism themselves. “All supporters together determine the atmosphere in a stadium,” says Beelaert. “The aim is that those who are guilty of racism realize that they are alone in this. That is the best way to nip the problem in the bud.”

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