During the summer months, a three word football cliché, otherwise understood as an emotional appeal from a manager to an unhappy or financially motivated player, was redefined. When Brendan Rogers sought to impress the message of love for club upon Luis Suarez, the term ‘repay the loyalty,’ took on a meaning of support for racism. Liverpool strongly defended their striker when he was accused of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. They were wrong to do so in the eyes of the F.A. who banned Suarez for eight games, after an independent report acknowledged the striker had used the word negro seven times in two minutes.
In the minds of opposition fans, the Merseyside club made more than an error in judgment, they stood up for a racist. When Suarez plays an away game he isn’t left wondering how the football world outside of Anfield thinks of him. “We know what you are, we know what you are, Luis Suarez we know what you are,” chant terraces from Sunderland to Swansea. In Manchester, few are as kind to sing only this. Sharing an affinity with a racist is intolerable and when Suarez plays at Old Trafford, his game with Evra has to have two outcomes. A win for United and Suarez not scoring. Sounds like a bet for a morally motivated punter to make.
With gambling, it takes monetary loss for the metaphorical light bulb to switch on and recognise the odds of winning are stacked in the favour of the bookmaker, but the moment of enlightenment that allows for a better understanding of the world has been short circuited were football and race are concerned. Without racist supporters undergoing electric shock treatment to learn that the colour of a footballers skin has no bearing on their character or talent, a move toward zero tolerance is required.
This attitude hasn’t been taken on by football’s world governing body Fifa, as their decision to award Russia the rights to stage a World Cup in 2018 have highlighted. The organisation has been under fire for selecting a country with an infamous history of racism at club level. Little cost perhaps to men who most recently associated themselves with former vice-president Jack Warner (quit his position amid corruption allegations) and two executive committee members who had their World Cup voting rights suspended (after allegations they would accept money in return for votes).
After he reported monkey chants to Champions League match referee Ovidiu Hategan, Manchester City captain Yaya Toure delivered a swift response to the issue of racism. “The Club (CSKA Moscow) will say we have to educate the fans but I think it’s enough; too much is too much.” His words were directed at a team who have since denied that their supporters were racist toward him. Manager Leonid Slutsky refused to shame those who acted out of hate and caused offence to Toure. This despite television pictures clearly focused on home fans with their arms arced and bouncing, the football racists favourite monkey stereotype. A Uefa investigation into the matter is only likely to be judged credible if it concludes that CSKA should face a punishment in line with Toure’s call for a closure of the Moscow stadium for several years.
The disqualification of CSKA would be a more welcome and appropriate approach for Uefa to take. When they make public their expected decision at the end of October, it will be looked upon as an unfortunate verdict. Unfortunate, because it will fail to establish Uefa as the progressive, hard line advocate of anti-racism that is needed in European football. The Russian club won’t be removed from the competition and their racist fans will return to abuse players of colour in years, if not months to come.
Since Toure’s disclosure, the Russian World Cup organising committee have claimed that the 2018 tournament “will act as a catalyst to positively change the mindsets and behaviour across all in Russian football.” Rational minds will wonder if work to achieve such a feat is in vain. The stubborn culture within CSKA that wishes to falsify and dismiss the disgraceful events of last night is grotesque. Their own words are a reminder of why disciplinary proceedings against them are required immediately. They said, “Having carefully studied the video of the game, we found no racist insults from (our) fans.” Tasked with changing this attitude alone is challenging. More worryingly for the committee are opponents of racism and players who are likely to boycott the World Cup if firm action is not taken to address the matter.