With Euro 2012 entering the quarterfinals, the last couple of weeks have treated fans around the world to football of the highest level. The tournament co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, has showcased some of the biggest stars of the world’s most popular sport day in and day out. It’s been a spectacular event so far, with the excitement only set to increase as the knockout stages ensue.
Unfortunately, the competition has also been host to a massive controversy involving UEFA. With the threat of racism a serious issue before the start of the tournament, UEFA had expressed its intent to vehemently battle the highly-discriminatory and hurtful behavior. But its actions didn’t always reflect the supposed intentions.
Very recently, Danish international Nicklas Bendtner was fined €100,000 (roughly P5,329,251), and banned one international fixture, for pulling down his shorts to reveal an advertisement of an Irish betting site. This punishment was received with widespread disdain all over the world. The decision to sanction the striker wasn’t the cause of outrage, but the fact that racist behavior, an act considered severely worse, has never been met with a penalty anywhere near that harsh.
In fact, according to figures from an English publication, the sum of all racism-associated fines handed out by UEFA since the year 2000 put together isn’t even close to the one handed out to Bendtner. To give an idea of the absurdity of the fining system, last February, Portuguese club Porto was fined roughly $26,200 (over P1,110,000) for prolonged racist abuse directed at Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli. That’s more than $12,000 (P506,000) less than the fine handed to Man City for being less than a minute late to emerge for the second half in a match against Sporting Lisbon. In what world should tardiness be punished more heavily than an act of blind hate and abuse? The discrepancies are bewildering. For all of the public condemnation of racism across Europe, UEFA’s actions are certainly proving contrary to all of its apparent disdain for such behavior.
Just a day ago, the European association once again displayed its alarming choice of priorities. Having earlier charged Croatia for their supporters’ participation in racist chants, display of racist symbols, and use of fireworks, the governing body revealed the punishment it felt the Croatians deserved. The sum the geniuses came up with? €80,000 (roughly P4,285,880), a fifth less than the one handed to Bendtner.
Clearly UEFA’s priorities are out of sorts. The message it has made here is simple, “Racist behavior will be punished, but don’t you dare try to pull any ambush advertising in our competition.” Well I’m glad UEFA knows what’s important.
Even Croatia coach Slaven Bilic would likely be surprised by the penalty. In the wake of the charge made against his country, the proud Croatian was embarrassed by the ignorant actions of some of his countrymen, and even went on to say that these type of fans should be kicked out of the sport permanently. His vigorous stance against racism was met with widespread approval in the footballing community, but it seems UEFA aren’t on the same page.
There is no excuse for racism. It’s 2012 for goodness sake. This is a time where you’d imagine ignorant thinking and such close-mindedness have no place. Football is a global sport, an activity that is enjoyed by children across the globe, regardless of gender, nationality, and race. Those that excel in the sport should not be considered anything other than what they are – footballers, plain and simple. It’s disturbing to think that there are people who will fail to appreciate the talents of Didier Drogba, Mario Balotelli, Clarence Seedorf, and countless other black players, just because of the color of their skin. It’s illogical, and quite simply, a backwards way of thinking.
It’s comforting to know that racism isn’t an issue here in the Philippines – or at least it hasn’t really been yet. Aside from the comments of an ignorant ninja turtle-looking broadcaster, and some chants from Indonesian supporters, our footballers in the Philippines have not been subject to much racist abuse. Players of all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities ply their trade on a weekly basis in the United Football League without any problems — just the way it should be. With the game’s fan base growing at an intense rate, the hope is that this trend will remain. And should factions of abusive fans emerge in the future, I fully expect harsh punishments to be meted out. Very early on the UFL has made its stance against racism, and long may it continue.
Football is considered the “beautiful game” for a reason. Let’s not take part in tainting its reputation.
Josue Jamlang covers football for InterAKTV and announces matches for AKTV on IBC. He served as an assistant technical director for the UFL during its maiden season. His column Off the Upright sees him giving his take on various football issues. Follow him on Twitter for more football discussion.