English football fans make racist chants as they push black man off Paris train
Sparks global debate about racism in football and the ugly nature of 'lad culture'
Chelsea bans five people from its stadium following the incident
“We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it,” chanted a group of Chelsea football fans as they shoved a black man off a Paris Metro train.
Again and again the black passenger attempted to board the waiting train, only to be pushed back onto the platform by a torrent of limbs and hateful words.
The man went home to his wife and three children and, having lost his phone in the melee, was initially unaware the incident had sparked a global debate about racism that spilled far beyond the sports stadium.
The ugly scene, caught on camera by a horrified onlooker, showed racism is very much alive and kicking – and it’s not just football’s problem.
“There’s a strand of male culture you see in the UK, and to some extent other Anglo Saxon societies, prevalent among 20, 30 and even 40-year-olds, which is: you go abroad, you drink a fair amount, you sing songs and engage in banter, and pick on someone who is different to you,” said Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE).
“There’s this pervasive sexism and racism. The idea that ‘anyone who isn’t like us, we’re going to sing about them and insult them and it’s part of the lad’s day out.’”
It’s a culture absent from women’s football.
“The fastest growing participation sport in the UK, and many countries around the world, is women’s football,” explained Lord Herman Ouseley of football equality group, Kick it Out.
“And I have to tell you we don’t get such incidents in women’s football. Or such incidents in disabled people’s football. But we get it in men’s football.
“It’s part of that lad’s culture and the stick-together mentality that goes with it. And it doesn’t just have to be on the issue of race. It embodies sexism, homophobia and anti-Islam.”
Racism and football have a long relationship, says Powar, pointing to the strong sense of tribalism within the sport.
“English football in particular is rooted in a white, working class community,” he explained.
“When the country started to experience mass migration from the colonies in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, then the racism that was prevalent on the streets and schools and workplaces, was being amplified inside football stadiums.
“And then at some point racism in football stadiums was actually more prevalent than in the streets and schools – it was more consistent, heard more often, and more virulent.”
Return to ‘dark days?’
Football’s “dark days” of racial abuse in 1970s and 1980s are behind well behind us, he says. Though there is still some way to go in stamping it out completely.
“Even 10 years ago, the chances of an ethnic minority hearing something racially offensive in the football stadium, was commonplace.
“But now I think there’s an acceptance that a line has been drawn, that it’s not acceptable, and that we revere many black players. Chelsea fans themselves voted Didier Drogba, a black player, as being one of their all-time heroes.”
Strangely enough, the same Chelsea ‘fan’ who shoved the black passenger in Paris supports a team with some of the most talented black players in the league and which has just signed the talented Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado.
In recent years football has suffered a spate of high-profile racial abuse cases, notably involving Luis Suarez, who is now at Barcelona and Chelsea captain John Terry. While Liverpool’s Mario Balotelli was racially abused while playing in Italy’s Serie A.
What price for safety?
Over the last decade, Europe’s governing body UEFA have prosecuted over 120 incidents of racism – sanctions included player suspensions, matches played behind closed doors, and fines.
Back in Britain, the English Football Association created a 92-point Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action Plan in 2012, including confidential hotlines for players to report discrimination, ethnic quotas for referees and coaches, and state-of-the-art cameras to catch racist abuse in the stands.
Following the incident in Paris this week, Chelsea has now suspended five people from its home ground Stamford Bridge. Depending on the evidence, they may also be banned from the club for life.
“In England, our stadiums are far safer, they’re better stewarded, there are policing operations which are quite sophisticated,” said Powar.
“And actually some would argue that it’s gone too far. Some would argue that those stadiums are quite sterile, that they lack the passion they once did.”
Racism in the boardroom
Away from the stadia and away from the Paris Metro another kind of prejudice is in action. Powar estimates that just 3% of those in professional coaching and management positions are from ethnic minorities.
“The boardrooms are almost exclusively white and male – and senior administrative positions are the same way,” said Ouseley.
“We’re seeing some progress, but it’s slow. At the start of this season there were no black managers – now there are five, including one in the premier league.”
Queens Park Rangers boss Chris Ramsey is that one black manager in the English Premier League and he insisted blame for the incident in Paris shouldn’t be left at football’s door.
“I don’t believe they are Chelsea fans or fans of football,” said Ramsey. “I believe they are acting in a manner which we all think is a thing of the past,” he said.
“Those views are intrinsic in everyday life. I’ve been saying for a long time these are social issues which manifest themselves in the football world.”
And as the incident in Paris showed, racism in football needn’t be confined to the playing field.