Stoppages during play aren’t enough. Neither are measly fines to opulent soccer organizations.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has received plenty of criticism on a wide variety of subjects during his reign as the highest authority in world soccer. What most taints his image, though, lies in his efforts towards the fight against racism in soccer, a controversial struggle that has sadly only come to fruition in the past few years.
In a Serie A (Italian soccer league) matchup between visiting A.C. Milan and Roma on Sunday, the game had to be halted for a few minutes, as Roma fans continued their incessant, racist chanting directed at Milan players Mario Balotelli and Kevin-Prince Boateng (darker-skinned players). FIFA–and Sepp Blatter–has used to two techniques in confronting this type of issue. The first is instituting new league rules that allow for referees to stop play in order to issue a stadium announcement towards fans with abusive chants; this did occur in this Milan-Roma game. The second technique is simply fining the teams who have fans that use racist chants; once again, FIFA utilized this method and fined Roma 50,000 Euros.
This conservative approach has been used for years now by FIFA–and obviously, goals of slowly eliminating any racism from soccer are nowhere near completion. Without a doubt, in an age that calls for taking more forceful positions on any issue, Sepp Blatter has to take drastic measures in confronting this widespread malpractice. And it all begins with firmly acknowledging the presence of these wrongdoings. In other words, it’s pathetic for Blatter to say (through Twitter on Monday) that he was “appalled to read about racist abuse”. If he’s not fully cognizant of this complicated situation by now, and its pervasiveness, he has no business holding the esteemed position of FIFA president, or leading the charge in countering racism in soccer.
If Blatter is truly willing to take a firm stance on this issue–and tremendously benefiting the sport in doing so–he must establish a greater penalty for racist chants as well as for intolerant remarks on the pitch. Perhaps actions such as denying home crowds at games as a punishment for perpetrators (at the very least), or banning an entire team from play and count the match not played as a forfeit (at the most) are in order.
Furthermore, FIFA and its president must act quickly on this issue as well: not only has racism in soccer ceased to decline, but the sport of soccer is also falling behind other significant sports which are undergoing progressive reform that promotes more tolerance and sensitivity.