FIFA must lead by example

by Sammy Lee

It’s been a difficult fortnight for FIFA. With allegations, counter-allegations, hidden tapes and denials surrounding the bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the much-maligned governing body is under increasing pressure to get their affairs in order.

The debate over vote-selling, swapping or whatever the corrupt heads of federation are agreeing to so they can make a few extra quid for themselves is the latest in a long line of controversies and bad policies that has seen Sepp Blatter’s regime criticised and chastised the world over.

Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii, the two executive committee members implicated in the Sunday Times sting, were suspended along with four other officials by FIFA’s ethics panel last week ahead of a November meeting to decide their fate.

FIFA and allegations of corruption have gone hand in hand for generations, and the latest scandal has come as no surprise whatsoever to those who have closely scrutinised the organisation over the years, or indeed to the casual observer.

What will become of the conspirators, who may well be the guiltiest parties since the Pakistan cricket spot fixers, is as yet merely open to speculation. What is certain is that FIFA must act strongly so that the replacements, and those currently in similar positions, will not be tempted to commit similar sins in future. Sceptical? I am.

And not just because the well-documented, top-level corruption that has gone unpunished for decades.

It may seem like kicking them while they’re down, though they have been down for a long time and many have gladly stuck the boot in, but the legacy of another FIFA inadequacy continues to flourish throughout Europe.

Only last Sunday, Samuel Eto’o was subjected to racial abuse at the hands of football fans for the umpteenth time in his career. The latest case reared its head in Sardinia, where the match between Cagliari and Internazionale was halted for five minutes as a stadium announcer warned that continued abuse to the Cameroonian could see the game postponed. The game was resumed and Eto’o scored the only goal in a 1-0 win, but to say that the striker silenced the home crowd is merely a handy headline.

The truth is that these fans will not be silenced. The club was handed a measly €25,000 fine and nothing else.

At the same meeting, the Italian football federation (FIGC) fined Roma €10,000 after a supporter had flashed a laser pen into the eyes of the assistant referee. This action, one that is also prevalent in mainland Europe, was rightfully punished, but paltry fines directed at the club’s will never deter miscreant fans.

That fine also highlights the attitude national governing bodies hold towards racist chanting. They’re a token gesture born out of a resignation that nothing can be done. An acceptance.

“I am against any kinds of insults and racial discrimination, but if you go to football matches it shouldn’t shock you. These are chants that you hear in all stadiums.” Ciro Ferrara, now Italy U21s manager, talks about Neanderthal abuse like it’s warm beer.

Jose Mourinho’s €40,000 fine for a handcuffs gesture, one that was attributed to the perceived poor treatment of his then club Inter by Italian referees, serves as a further example of the disproportionate nature of these fines.

Yet the €25,000 Cagliari fine is one of the largest meted out for racist abuse in recent years. Juventus were punished four times in 2009 alone for abuse aimed solely at Mario Balotelli, yet no sanction breached the €20,000 mark. The fourth occasion saw the club’s ultras banned. For one match.

And it’s not a problem unique to Italy by any stretch of the imagination. Samuel Eto’o received similar taunts during his time in Spain, notably in Zaragoza where he was subjected to monkey chants and had peanuts thrown at him. The abuse was of such severity that he tried to leave the pitch, only to be convinced by his team mates. The behaviour of the crowd was omitted from the referee’s match report and was in fact noted as ‘normal’, while the Spanish football federation (RFEF) dished out just a €9,000 penalty to Zaragoza.

“It was a minority and although you have to listen to it, minorities should not be paid too much attention. It happens in all stadiums: I have heard it in the Nou Camp before.” Victor Munoz, Zaragoza coach at the time, sums up the feeling in Spain.

That incident came just weeks after Albacete were fined €600 (ten weeks’ dole payments) for the behaviour of their fans after more racist abuse was aimed at Eto’o. What is more remarkable is that the fine was halved on appeal. In more encouraging news, however, two of the fans responsible for the chants were personally fined €6,000 each and banned from football matches for five months. It wasn’t severe enough punishment, of course, but it is a step that should be exercised further in future. Sadly, that was six years ago.

Around the same time, three Real Valladolid players were fined €500 each for wearing t-shirts bearing a message of support for a team mate seriously injured in a car crash.

Years later, Real Madrid were fined €3,000 when their fans displayed Nazi banners and chanted about the gas chambers. Espanyol’s José Callejón was also fined that amount. For wearing a t-shirt with the image of fallen team mate and friend Dani Jarque, who died of a heart attack at the age of 26.

The fines are disproportionate and insulting.

‘What does this have to do with FIFA?’, you may be asking. Well, their inaction and, at best, paltry punishments for similar racist acts during International matches have allowed the national governing bodies to get away with dishing out such token sanctions.

The RFEF were themselves fined by FIFA after Spain fans racially abused England’s senior and U21 players in 2004. £44,750 was the sum deducted from the coffers in Madrid, a sum that was accompanied by the bog-standard warning against future misdemeanours.

FIFA’s punishment clearly did nothing to convince the men in charge in Spain that racist abuse needs to be treated with anything approaching zero tolerance. Indeed, at a time when then Spainish national coach Luis Aragones had created a storm by branding Thierry Henry a ‘black shit’, the fine suggested to the footballing world that racial abuse was not to be severely dealt with at all.

It’s certainly not a one-off. Croatia’s Euro 2008 qualifying campaign and matches at the tournament itself were hampered by a string of offences; fans stood in a swastika formation in a game against Italy, displayed racist banners and clashed with Muslim supporters in meetings with Turkey.

Falling under UEFA’s jurisdiction, the events were condemned by director of communications William Gaillard.

“We have had serious incidents of racism with Croatian fans in the past so we can impose heavier sanctions if it happens again which ultimately could be exclusion from the competition.

“There are new rules which can lead to exclusion from a competition and docking points in extreme cases. We will monitor events closely.

“Ourselves and FIFA have imposed sanctions and the sanctions will be heavier in the future.”

In September of that year, three months after Euro 2008, FIFA charged Croatia £14,920 for monkey chants aimed at England’s Emile Heskey in Zagreb. The fine also came with a warning against similar future crimes, but did not take into account the previous troubles, and got nowhere near expelling them from future tournaments.

This inaction and apathy displayed by FIFA whenever an opportunity to deal with racism arises has given UEFA and its individual members license to treat similar occurrences similarly lightly. Only when FIFA hit offending federations hard, whether through seven-figure fines, closing stadiums or expulsion from tournaments, will the rest of the footballing rule-makers follow suit in the fight against the sport’s biggest shame.

1 Response

  1. Robbie Deighan says:

    Nice job getting Liverpool’s assistant manager to write for the website!

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