By Will Day – staff writer
Monday October 4th, is a day that Tyrone Mings will never forget. His international debut, a day that should have been one of the happiest days of his life, will forever be marred by the vitriolic racism he, and other, England players were subject to by sections of Bulgarian fans. The prevalence of monkey chants and Nazi salutes was shocking.
More shocking was the openness in which these individuals acted. Although some covered their faces, the majority did not, providing a glimpse into the environment of hate which plagues the footballing world. An environment where racists can feel so emboldened that they stand barefaced performing Nazi salutes seemingly unafraid of repercussion.
Of course, serious questions should be asked of the local authorities and their handling of racism, but it also plunges UEFA’s fragile and insufficient confrontation of racism into the spotlight.
UEFA, who claim their sanctions for those found guilty of racism are the “toughest”, have implemented a three-step protocol to combat racist abuse in stadium. The first step being a suspension of the match accompanied with a warning announcement. If the game restarts and abuse does not stop then a second suspension will be implemented with the referee asking the player to vacate the field before the abuse stops. The final step will be the definitive abandonment of the game under the referee’s instruction.
We saw a quasi-implementation of this protocol in Bulgaria as play was suspended. It was quite remarkable however that the officials could not hear any abuse until Tyrone Mings, quite unsubtly, highlighted it. The game restarted, but before half time it was suspended once more.
According to protocol, we should have seen the vacation of the pitch by both sets of players, however, as England players wished to see the final few minutes through before re-grouping at half time. During the second suspension a small portion of Bulgarian fans were ejected from the stadium in an attempt to quell the abhorrent behavior. The second half saw no suspension by officials, it was clear however that the abuse had not stopped.
Judging by its first implementation, it is clear this protocol is inherently flawed. In its attempts to quash in-stadium racism, UEFA has shown the world that they are not taking a zero-tolerance stance.
Instead they have shown racists they will have two opportunities to espouse their sick rhetoric before serious action is taken. Paul Ince, one of many to condemn the policy said, “It felt to me like a boxer and you get two free hits in the face and the third one you are allowed to respond”.
This protocol will do nothing to stop racist abuse. Instead racists now know just how far they can propagate their hate before shutting up and watching the rest of the game repercussion free. Until UEFA adopt a stance of absolute zero-tolerance we will see no significant change.
Will these racists feel so emboldened knowing their actions will have an immediate and detrimental effect; the minimum being the abandonment of the game with victory handed to the opposing team. Will they so openly espouse their twisted racist ideals knowing they are the sole reason for their country’s elimination from a European competition?
The fact that the game was not abandoned highlights another flaw. Neither the officials, nor the players, may have heard abuse in the second half, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. It was apparent for everyone watching at home that it had continued. Why is it even down to the officials (or Tyrone Mings) to act as anti-racist watchdogs?
Officials are constantly berated for their mistakes; now they are expected to watch the game and crowd simultaneously? In its current embodiment, this protocol will fail. It must be efficient and decisive, not reliant on the officials who cannot give their full attention to crowd actions or noise.
Gareth Southgate’s post- match comments gave further indictment for the policy as he stated on both occasions, he or his staff made officials aware of the abuse. This cannot continue. UEFA should be doing everything in their power to protect individuals from abuse not using them as de-facto stadium officials.
To make matters worse, the Bulgarian FA were already subject to sanctions due to racist abuse in a previous match. UEFA’s punishment, a partial stadium closure: the footballing equivalent of spending ten minutes on the naughty step for punching a sibling in the face.
This match seized public attention, with the actions of the portion of Bulgarian fans utterly condemned, rightly so, however our condemnation must come with a caveat. We must acknowledge these disgusting behaviors are not exclusive to nations further afield and plagued our game too. In a week that saw the abandonment of an FA cup tie because of racial abuse, it is paramount that the FA take the strongest stance putting the UK at the vanguard of tackling this evil.
Since writing this article UEFA has sanctioned Bulgaria with two matches behind closed doors and a £64,650 fine. These sanctions seem to overlook a deeper systemic with UEFA’s protocol, a fine on the team will hardly deter these racist fans.
UEFA must crack down on racism within matches and sanctions need to have a directly negative effect on national teams standings. Afterall such proud racists would surely not be so proud to undermine the ‘strength’ of their nation.
Image credit: Jarmoluk