EU football authorities urged to tackle racism as incidents mount

Some 140 MEPs have sent a letter to the European football association, UEFA, calling on the organisation to tackle racism in European stadiums “more vigorously.”

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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

10 Dec 2019

The intervention is timely, with European Parliament President David Sassoli due to hold meetings in Brussels on Wednesday with Gianni Infantino, President of FIFA, the world governing body for football, where he is expected to raise the issue of racism in the game.

The appeal from MEPs comes in the wake of a series of recent incidents, the latest of which took place at the Manchester derby game at the weekend.

The arrest of a man on Sunday in connection with alleged racist abuse directed towards Manchester United players in the televised derby has led to renewed questions about the extent of the problem in the game.


Further concern was voiced last week at the publication of a headline alongside photos of two black players in the Italian daily, Corriere dello Sport.

Last Thursday’s edition of Corriere dello Sport, one of Italy’s main sports newspapers, immediately drew condemnation from anti-racism groups, the two black players pictured and even various clubs in a country that has struggled to deal with racism in general and racism in football in particular.

Italy has long struggled to deal with racism in the game, a persistent problem that has tainted the country’s most popular sport.

It is one of several incidents of racism in European football in recent months. In October, a match between England and Bulgaria saw Bulgarian fans taunting England's black players with monkey chants and Nazi salutes while, in the Netherlands recently, the referee suspended a game after fans of FC Den Bosch abused a black player from Excelsior Rotterdam.

“There is beauty in the joy of winning and in the pain of loss. The racism, however, should not be part of it. It taints the beautiful game” Samira Rafaela MEP

The player, Ahmad Mendes Moreira, was racially abused throughout the game.

The problem is far from new: a banana was thrown at the Italian international Mario Balotelli by Croatian fans at Euro 2012 while Partizan Belgrade’s Brazilian midfielder Everton Luiz was abused by FK Rad fans in the Serbian SuperLiga a couple of years ago.

The letter from MEPs, sent by Parliament’s anti-racism and diversity intergroup, urges football officials to “move away from symbolic sanctions” and to impose significant sanctions, including the potential expulsion of clubs and countries from tournaments.

Co-signed by the group’s joint leader, RE deputy Samira Rafaela, the letter demands that UEFA combats racism “more vigorously, following a string of incidents all over Europe, including racist slurs from the stands at games.”

In the statement, Dutch MEP Rafaela says that recent events are not isolated incidents “but part of a pattern in all European competitions that has existed for decades.”

It adds, “Enough is enough. Racism is unacceptable, no matter the circumstances.”

It goes on, “Football is Europe’s most popular sport. Many football lovers play the game themselves purely for recreation or competitive. A select group of talented players is able to play professionally. These pros draw hundreds of thousands of fans to stadiums on a weekly basis. Millions more watch their favourite teams on television or through web streaming. Football has been called the beautiful game for good reason.”

“There is beauty in the joy of winning and in the pain of loss. The racism, however, should not be part of it. It taints the beautiful game.”

Rafaela adds, “When the Netherlands became European champions in 2017, I was as happy as any of my compatriots. That happiness contrasts with the anger and sadness I feel when racism rears its ugly head in stadiums. That ugly face should go.”

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