Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The New Race Dialectics in Football

By Bagga Wilks

For decades, football had been plagued by travelling packs of wolves that would attend soccer matches and create mayhem. Harsh law enforcement has reduced hooliganism from marring the world of soccer.

As soccer has globalized, we are witnessing a resurgence of nativism and racism. At an international game involving Italy, Italian nationals expressed their resentment that the black Italian Mario Balotelli was representing Italy.

Just over the last fortnight, there has been a series of racist allegations encompassing the English League and the Spanish League. Cesc Fabregas who just this season transferred from Arsenal to Barcelona has been accused of making racist remarks to an opponent. Fabregas has denied the accusation and there will be an inquiry.

The English skipper, John Terry, has been accused by Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers of making racist remarks and the FA is examining the veracity of the claim. Terry is not known for his moral character. A couple seasons ago, he caused a disruption on the English team as he was accused of sleeping with his best friend’s girl friend at the time. Wayne Bridge was a member of the English squad at the time and was alienated from his best friend, John Terry.

In the Manchester United draw with Liverpool, Patrice Evra has accused the Uruguayan, Luis Suarez of using a racist remark ten times on the field. Suarez is new to the EPL after playing for Ajax in Holland and in his short sojourn has demonstrated an intemperate spirit. His manager, Dalglish, has come to his rescue without knowing the facts.

In an international friendly in London, Brazil’s Neymar complained in the game against Scotland of fans throwing a banana peel on the field and of racial taunts. Neymar complained but the issue faded with time.

Why are these racist taunts now coming to the fore? FIFA has been instrumental in taking the World Cup to other parts of the world beyond the European enclaves. The 2010 World Cup was held in South Africa. The 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil. Brazil has the largest concentration of blacks in the western hemisphere. Brazil’s definition of race is far more nuanced than in the United States or Europe.

Europe is experiencing a difficult time in assimilating a heavy influx of immigrants. Even in tolerant societies like the Scandinavian countries, the assimilation of Muslims has been a difficult task. The English League in certain parts of the country had to be postponed because of the city riots which were more about class than about race.

European economies are also struggling with their own debt crisis and inequality of wealth. But one would expect those stressors to be manifested among fans, not players who are well paid.

There was a time when the English team had difficulty including in the side some of their top black players. The World Cup of 1986 may have had a different outcome if England had built the team around the guile of Johnny Barnes who was used sparingly but whenever he was inserted, made a difference in the potency of the English attack.

The English team no longer has just a token black but it is a fully integrated team with Theo Walcott, Darren Bent, Ashley Cole, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Rio Ferdinand and Glen Johnson. There are other black players knocking on the door to represent England in the international game.

The English League may be the most integrated in all of Europe. Chelsea boasts players from the African continent, Brazil, Black British, the European continent, etc. Arsenal has comparable diversity with black players from France, white players from France and players from the African continent. Manchester United and Manchester City have a similar racial mix.

There has been a concern in England that English players are becoming a minority in the EPL, particularly among the elite clubs which are endowed with billionaire foreign owners. Teams that wish to win at all cost will purchase the players more likely to enhance the chances of victory. Unless teams are vying for championships, the fans become restless and the gate receipts are affected.

Of all the professional money-making sports, soccer is the most globalized. FIFA and the English FA have embarked on inquiries to deal with the racial sparks. In this globalized world, racism cannot be glossed over and those found guilty should be given severe punishment. Both FIFA and FA should be reminded that justice delayed, is justice denied.

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