Racism and European Football

Authored by: Mark Doidge

Routledge Handbook of Sport, Race and Ethnicity

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  September  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138816954
eBook ISBN: 9781315745886
Adobe ISBN: 9781317596677




In July 2015, the FC Ufa and ex-Arsenal player Emannuel Frimpong was sent off for reacting to Spartak Moscow fans who aimed racist chants at him throughout the game. Three years earlier, members of the Landscrona fan-group at Zenit St. Petersburg wrote an open letter to the club stating that they should not sign ‘dark-skinned players’ or ‘sexual minorities’. Despite media stories to the contrary, these episodes are not unique to Russia or Eastern Europe. In January 2013, Kevin-Prince Boateng, AC Milan’s Ghanaian midfielder, walked off the pitch in a friendly match against Pro Patria. He had received sustained racist abuse from the home fans and was supported by his teammates in his decision to leave the field. These small numbers of examples demonstrate the pervasiveness of racism in football across Europe. Yet these events do not only take place in the football stadium. The British anti-racism organisation Kick It Out released findings into racism in English football in May 2015. Not only did they reveal that racism continues to be a major problem in English football, but they demonstrated how it was finding new mediums of expression. Social media in particular was frequently used to target players. While at Liverpool in 2015, the Italian striker Mario Balotelli received over 8,000 abusive tweets, half of which included racist comments. Frequently, fans are the only ones blamed for racism by the authorities and media. It would be a fallacy to argue that these attitudes do not occur elsewhere in the football hierarchy, particularly given the paucity of non-white players in administration and coaching across Europe. Indeed, details of text messages sent between former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay and his sporting director Iain Moody in 2013 showed how racist and anti-Semitic language was used to denigrate players and agents.

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Racism and European Football

In July 2015, the FC Ufa and ex-Arsenal player Emannuel Frimpong was sent off for reacting to Spartak Moscow fans who aimed racist chants at him throughout the game. Three years earlier, members of the Landscrona fan-group at Zenit St. Petersburg wrote an open letter to the club stating that they should not sign ‘dark-skinned players’ or ‘sexual minorities’. Despite media stories to the contrary, these episodes are not unique to Russia or Eastern Europe. In January 2013, Kevin-Prince Boateng, AC Milan’s Ghanaian midfielder, walked off the pitch in a friendly match against Pro Patria. He had received sustained racist abuse from the home fans and was supported by his teammates in his decision to leave the field. These small numbers of examples demonstrate the pervasiveness of racism in football across Europe. Yet these events do not only take place in the football stadium. The British anti-racism organisation Kick It Out released findings into racism in English football in May 2015. Not only did they reveal that racism continues to be a major problem in English football, but they demonstrated how it was finding new mediums of expression. Social media in particular was frequently used to target players. While at Liverpool in 2015, the Italian striker Mario Balotelli received over 8,000 abusive tweets, half of which included racist comments. Frequently, fans are the only ones blamed for racism by the authorities and media. It would be a fallacy to argue that these attitudes do not occur elsewhere in the football hierarchy, particularly given the paucity of non-white players in administration and coaching across Europe. Indeed, details of text messages sent between former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay and his sporting director Iain Moody in 2013 showed how racist and anti-Semitic language was used to denigrate players and agents.

What these examples show is how pervasive racism is in European football. The demographic constitution of European nations has changed, with greater migration, and this is reflected in the composition of football teams. This rapidly changed after the passing of the Bosman ruling in 1995. Jean-Marc Bosman played for SRC Liège in the Belgian first division. His contract expired in 1990 and he wanted to sign for Dunkerque in France. Liège refused to sanction the move after there was a disagreement over transfer fees. Bosman was forced to train with the reserve team and had his wages reduced. With the support of FIFPro, the players’ union, Bosman successfully challenged the Belgian football federation’s regulations that permitted this situation. The European Court of Justice saw the Bosman case as a restriction on the movement of workers, in contravention of EU law. After the ruling, players were free to move between EU countries and permitted to move at the end of their contract without a transfer fee imposed. This coincided with a dramatic economic transformation of European football. New television deals and corporate sponsorship packages dramatically increased the income of clubs, who then purchased a range of star players from across the globe. The make up of teams across Europe changed dramatically.

Despite these changes, racism has been part of European football for decades. The imperial and colonial histories of European nations witnessed players from across empires playing in early football matches. The conflation of nationhood and race in the late nineteenth century had an impact on sport. Clearly this reached its nadir between the World Wars, when nationalist ideology explicitly excluded those who did not conform to the notion of jus sanguinis, or citizenship by bloodline. Jews, gypsies, and non-nationals were excluded from sports clubs and national teams. Despite this ideology, rules were flexible. Mussolini permitted South American-born footballers with Italian families to play for the Italian World Cup winning teams for 1934 and 1938. 1 Since the 1970s European legislatures have introduced equality laws to tackle structural racism. Yet it should not be assumed that making racism illegal automatically stopped its practice. As previously noted, racism still occurs in football across Europe. As a result, charities and organisations like Kick It Out in England and Never Again in Poland have been established to raise awareness of the problem and campaign to remove racism from the sport. This chapter locates racism in European football and shows that the focus has been on racism from fans, but not in the hierarchies of the game. It also outlines the anti-racism organisations that have campaigned tirelessly to try to eradicate racism from football.

Racism and European football

In his essay ‘The Sporting Spirit’, George Orwell traced the growth of competitive sports to the rise of nationalism. ‘Serious sport’, Orwell argued, ‘has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ Orwell’s analysis correctly focused on the negative and divisive aspects of football. It divides rival teams into winners and losers. It also acts as a vehicle for various forms of identity. Since the nineteenth century, football has been a ritual that permits people to perform their local and national identities through symbolic victory over rivals. The roots of the game can be traced back to before the sport became codified. Localised identity in Italy manifested itself in the intra-city rivalries displayed in the palio in Siena, palio marinario in Livorno, and the violent football game of calcio fiorentino in Florence. 2 Indeed, hooligan rivalries have been formed through the symbolic violence of masculine fan groups gaining superiority over opponents. 3

Although nationalism is important in understanding racial and ethnic differences in football, it is not the only reason. A growth in localism during the 1970s and 1980s across Europe has also contributed to a heightened sense of localised identity in football. 4 This has been particularly acute in Italy, where there has been a long-standing identification with the locale long before the formation of the nation-state. Historical city-states preceded the nation of Italy and ensured that the Italian state has struggled to impose itself on citizens. This localism, or campanilismo has enhanced the identity of football fans in Italy, and has been incorporated into the identity of the ultras. 5 Localism entered the political arena in the 1980s with the growth of the Northern League, who openly sought cessation from Italy. As Podaliri and Balestri argue, ‘This link to the small “mother country”, which is very close to extreme right-wing values, facilitate racist and xenophobic behavioural patterns inside the stadia.’ 6 This was reflected in chants and banners such as ‘Bergamo is a Nation, all the rest is South’, and ‘Brescia to the people from Brescia’. At the same time, chants and banners denigrated the south of Italy, particularly Napoli, who was performing well in Serie A, by declaring ‘Welcome to Italy’ or ‘Forza Etna’ (‘Go Etna’). 7 This ‘territorial discrimination’ has continued into the twenty-first century and was linked to racism by the Italian authorities in 2013. 8 This ritualistic abuse highlights how groups become racialised and situated in a hierarchy of difference.

Racism (and other forms of abuse) has to be situated within fan rivalries. 9 Understanding broader football fan culture helps to locate the abuse that occurs in the sport. De Biasi and Lanfranchi have argued that the ‘importance of difference’ is central to the ultras’ identity. 10 Highlighting what ‘we’ dislike, is reasserting what ‘we’ are not; denigrating rivals is part of this ritual. Abuse is directed at those that do not fit into what Back et al. call a ‘structure of antipathy’. 11 Racism is part of this wider performance of abuse. As King highlights, racist abuse falls into a hierarchy. 12 When fans sing ‘I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk’ they are implicitly saying that being Pakistani is considered to be culturally and morally low in the list of nations; being Turkish is judged as worse.

Various markers of difference are utilised by fans to distinguish them from their rivals. Often, it can be related to club colours, symbols, or players. 13 Race, nation, and ethnicity can be added to this list. 14 In each case, these symbols are not absolute but relative and contingent on specific contexts. For example, Back et al. use the example of a black England fan attending a game against Scotland and noticing someone from Combat 18 (a far-right group). 15 There was an acknowledgement that the common enemy that day was Scotland, not each other. It is for this reason that fans who chant racist abuse at a rival black player can equally valorise their own players from black and ethnic minorities. Acceptance is contingent on various factors, including localised notions of nationhood, masculinity, and class. 16

Despite the links to nationalism and localism, racism in European football is not always ideologically or politically motivated. Racism manifests itself in the stadium in two broad ways. There are fans who are ideologically motivated and politically driven. These fans are members of far-right organisations and seek to use football to promote their ideological beliefs. This is ‘instrumental’ or ‘real’ racism. 17 In contrast, there is ‘organic’ or ‘accidental’ racism. 18 This is when the crowd respond to events on the pitch, and use chants that can be considered racist, but without wider political intent. This form of abuse is usually aligned to the ‘importance of difference’ in broader football culture. Fans (and players) see denigration of rivals as a way of giving their team an advantage. It also helps foster group identity by reinforcing what they are not. This is achieved by highlighting and extenuating these markers of difference such as skin colour, height, hair (or lack of it), and perceived masculinity.

Understanding racism also needs to be culturally understood. Europe is a diverse continent that has many different historical and geographical distinctions. The colonial history of some Northern and Western European nations has facilitated certain patterns of migration and they have become multicultural much earlier. Eastern European nations had severe restrictions on migration in the Soviet era, while some Southern European nations have historically been spaces of emigration rather than immigration. It is this complexity that makes clear we should look at racisms. This helps identify the phenomenon’s heterogeneous nature. As Garland and Rowe argue, this is important in ‘moving away from singular conceptions of racism, which seek to explain it as though it were a unitary phenomenon, and towards an understanding which recognises the plurality of racisms’. 19 While racism based on skin colour is a clearer marker of distinction, other forms of ethnic abuse remain strong across Europe. Anti-Romany and anti-Jewish abuse remains culturally strong in parts of Eastern and Southern Europe and is not seen as racist in the same way as abuse directed at players of African origin. 20 For example, the term ‘Jew’ is used pejoratively in Poland to denigrate rivals. Teams and groups of fans are associated with Jewish founders or players and this is then turned into a term of abuse. In particular, Cracovia are targeted as being Jewish, even though the majority of their fans are Catholic. Similarly, fan groups at Lazio have chanted anti-Semitic abuse at Livorno and Roma fans for their perceived Jewish heritage. Consequently, anti-racist measures find resistance and/or confusion when implemented across the continent.

The problem with the term ‘racism’ is that it implies there are separate and distinct races. There is no ‘black’ or ‘white’ race, but attributes are assigned to individuals based on phenotypes, like skin colour. Garland and Rowe seek to move towards racialisation as an approach to the phenomenon as this reinforces its socially constructed nature, rather than assume that race is predetermined. 21 In some jurisdictions, racism is seen as only directed against people with black skin. This issue was highlighted by Burdsey, who observed that a black–white dualism emerged in anti-racism campaigns in the 1960s; this dualism ‘remained dominant and unchallenged in English football for longer than in other institutions’. 22 Effectively this rendered other ethnic groups, such as British Asians, absent from attention. Significantly, outside of Britain, the black–white dualism of Anglo-American discourse does not have the same history. 23 As diverse migration patterns have affected various European nations differently, ethnicities are also utilised.

As Back et al. demonstrated, ‘common sense’ understandings of abuse are located within fan rivalries. 24 Referring to skin colour (or any other marker of difference) is not always seen as racism. When the former Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, complimented Barack Obama for being ‘young, handsome and sun-tanned’, it was not deemed offensive in Italy. Indeed, many anti-Berlusconi protestors showed solidarity with Obama by blackening their faces. Something similar occurred in Treviso in 2001 when one of their players was racially abused; the rest of the team ‘blacked up’ to show solidarity. 25 The problem here is that in the Anglo-Saxon world, especially in the UK and USA, this is seen as an insult based on a long-standing minstrel tradition that sought to mimic African culture.

Racism in European football is highly nuanced and complicated; abuse is not automatically racism. The case of Mario Balotelli highlights the complexity of this phenomenon. 26 Balotelli has played for AC Milan and Inter in Italy and Manchester City and Liverpool in England. He was born to Ghanaian migrants in Palermo who were unable to afford his medical care when he fell ill as a child. Two years later Balotelli was adopted by a white Italian family from Brescia. While at Inter, he was subjected to a wide range of abuse from rival fans. The most common was ‘se saltelli, muore Balotelli’ (‘If you jump up and down, Balotelli dies’). This is not automatically racist as the same chant was aimed at Cristiano Lucarelli, a Livorno player who was noted for his communist politics. Yet Balotelli is simultaneously a threat to the rival team, and seen as a symbol of difference to the fans. His perceived attitude and petulance deemed him inferior and not worthy of the masculine world of football. Further analysis of the abuse targeted at Balotelli also highlighted that many racialised slurs were incorporated into the abuse, including comments like ‘There are no Black Italians’. This is not to say that all people abusing Balotelli are racist, but some are using racist language. Understanding the nuances of racism will hopefully help challenge this abuse in football stadiums.

Structural racism

Much of the academic and media focus has been on racism in the stadium. Racism is always seen as a problem of a minority of fans attending matches. What the Malky Mackay case showed in Britain is that managers and coaches also hold racist attitudes and use racist language. It is a fallacy to think that only fans hold views that are widespread elsewhere in society. Burdsey argues that the blight of racism has not disappeared in England, and recent events have only reinforced it. 27 Yet these examples are often attributed to individuals. 28 The examples of Luis Suárez and John Terry were attributed to individual players, while the example of Chelsea fans aggressively pushing a black Parisian off a metro train in the French capital were seen as a minority.

While great strides have been made, it does not mean that racism has been eradicated in European football. ‘Common sense’ arguments state that football cannot be racist precisely because there are players from numerous ethnicities on every team. Extending this logic, it would be possible to argue that nineteenth-century plantation owners were not racist because their slaves were black! Burdsey observes:

Overly optimistic views of progress neatly sidestep questions around power and politics, and ignore the fact that to look beyond the multiethnic spectacle on the pitch, in Europe at least, football remains a primarily white institution: games are watched by crowds of predominantly white supporters, controlled by white match officials, and teams are run by white (male) managers, coaches, owners and directors. 29

Structural issues remain within football, including exclusion of members of many different groups from access to the game. Old white men remain in positions of power within the sport.

Much of this approach is due to a growing individualisation of racism across Europe, predominantly in Northern Europe. Coinciding with a similar neoliberal approach in other areas of society, success and failure are individualised. Wealth accumulation and career success are seen as rewards for individual hard work and enterprise, while the poor are seen as feckless and lazy. As part of broader neoliberal processes across North America and Europe, structural issues are marginalised as governments seek to justify their reduction in the role of the state. This situation has also occurred in regards to racism. Goldberg states that ‘in diluting, if not erasing, race in all public affairs of the state, neo-liberal proponents nevertheless seek to privatize racisms alongside most everything else’. 30

Through this ‘colour-blindness’, racial neoliberalism removes states’ or institutions’ obligations to deal with racism. As Goldberg argues, ‘the individualization of wrongdoing, its localization as personal and so private preference expression, erases institutional racisms precisely as conceptual possibility’. 31 By locating it as the individual failure of the person engaging in racist behaviour, or the lack of hard work by the person of colour who has not succeeded, then the authorities can absolve themselves of responsibility. Ultimately, ‘colour-blindness works as an ideology by obscuring the institutional arrangements reproducing structural inequalities and does so in a way that justifies and defends the racial status quo’. 32 Moreover, colour-blindness is publicly argued by predominantly white populations who suggest that they do not see colour. This is particularly apposite in football as club owners and administrators deny that race is an issue. 33 Long et al. show that those in power often place the blame for lack of minority ethnic players and fans on the groups themselves. 34 More pertinently, Ratna suggested that white coaches and administrators in the women’s game thought that the lack of British Asian footballers was due to issues within South Asian communities, rather than racism. 35

Denial is often the starting point for clubs and football authorities. Back et al. argued:

the typical ‘public’ response of football clubs and individuals associated with the game to allegations of racism has historically been one of denial: denial that the problem exists at any significant level at individual clubs or amongst players, denial that there is a problem within the game more generally and, on occasion, denial that racism exists itself as a problem in society. 36

Denial of structural issues is even more pronounced. Long and McNamee have highlighted the slow and conservative attitude towards change within the administration of football. 37 As noted earlier, ‘common sense’ arguments are identified to show that there cannot be racism as there are many different nationalities and ethnicities playing the game. This argument, as Burdsey states, does not deny that racism existed; it argues that racism has disappeared. 38 This aligns with the broader categories of racism identified by Back et al. and Müller et al., where racism was motivated by politically ideological groups. 39 These have been removed and consequently any racism is ‘accidental’ 40 or comes down to individual failure.

Responses from governing bodies and clubs are wildly different across Europe. Governing bodies simply deny racism or pass a superficial sanction. After the Suárez and Terry incidents in 2011, the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, stated that these issues should be dealt with by shaking hands at the end of the match. This attitude was also clear after the sending off of Emmanuel Frimpong in Russia in July 2015. The general director of Ufa, Shamil Gazizov, said the taunts were ‘an unfortunate incident’ and that Frimpong was in the wrong and ‘sometimes you even have to hold back the tears and just put up with it’. These attitudes locate racism within the broader culture of abuse in football. Players have to demonstrate hegemonic masculinity, develop a thick skin, and demonstrate that they are physically and psychologically able to deal with the rigours of the game. Sensitivity to abuse is identified as an individual weakness rather than a structural issue.

In keeping with these attitudes, governing bodies have failed to successfully challenge the systemic racism within the game. Where sanctions are imposed, the fines amount to a few hours’ wages for star footballers or clubs. For example, the Italian football federation fined Juventus €20,000 and ordered them to play a match behind ‘closed doors’ for the various episodes of abuse directed at Mario Balotelli. 41 To put this into context, they fined Inter’s manager Jose Mourinho €40,000 for making a crossed-arm ‘handcuffs’ gesture after his team had two players sent off, which insinuated that the federation was corrupt and were trying to prevent Inter from winning the title. As Doidge states, ‘When accusations against the Federation are punished more severely than widespread racist abuse, there is little surprise that the problem continues.’ 42 Elsewhere, the Italian federation has suggested that players enter the field with ‘No Al Razzismo’ banners. These empty symbolic gestures have been reflected elsewhere in Europe and represent the ‘non-performativity’ of anti-racism in sport. 43

Racist attitudes pervade all hierarchies of football. The Malky Mackay case in England illustrates the discussions and views held in private by management. The disclosure of private texts between the former manager of Cardiff, Mackay, and his sporting director, Iain Moody, illustrated how groups were identified on the basis of their perceived race or ethnicity. Black players were seen as going to jail, South Koreans as dog-eaters, and Jews as money grabbing. Twelve months after the case was leaked to the media, the English FA took no action, stating it had no jurisdiction as there was a ‘legitimate expectation that these messages were only for the eyes of the other person’. A similar approach was taken with Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, when it was alleged he had sent sexist emails. As they were private, he escaped censure. In contrast, Paul Elliot, the former player and trustee of the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign, was forced to resign by the FA after a private text emerged in which Elliot used the ‘N-word’ in an argument with a business partner. The ‘non-performativity’ of anti-racism reflects your position in the hierarchy as well as your skin colour.

Similar issues occur across Europe. Club presidents have made racist comments about players and have not been sanctioned. The president of Palermo, Maurizio Zamparini, described the former Chelsea and Fiorentina player Adriano Mutu as a ‘crafty little gypsy’. 44 When Mario Balotelli moved to AC Milan in 2013, the brother of the club’s president (and former prime minister) and editor of Il Giornale newspaper, Paolo Berlusconi, invited attendees at a rally for his brother’s political party to come back for a party and meet ‘the nigger of the family [Balotelli]’. In the summer of 2014 the Italian football federation held its elections for president. The favourite, Carlo Tavecchio, made a speech that lamented the number of foreign players in Italy and suggested they were the reason for Italy’s failure at the World Cup in Brazil. As part of this speech, he referred to Opti Poba, a fictional player ‘who was previously eating bananas and now is a first team player for Lazio’. Tavecchio inferred that players from Africa were monkeys and not worthy of playing in Italy. Sadly, Tavecchio was still elected as head of the Italian football federation. This illustrates how many presidents and administrators are ignorant or wilfully blind to the issues of racism in sport.

Despite the failures of national football federations to adequately tackle racism in football, UEFA has finally begun to provide a uniform approach across Europe. While some of this can fall into the ‘non-performativity’ of anti-racism, UEFA has started to take a moral stance. The European football federation has introduced a zero-tolerance approach to racist chanting by fans in European competitions. They have also lent their support to national federations, such as Italy, to sanction racist abuse in national leagues. UEFA work in partnership with Football Against Racism Europe (FARE) and other European anti-racism groups to communicate a clear anti-racism message. These actions are vital if the issue of racism across Europe is to be addressed. There needs to be clear boundaries and an unambiguous approach. However, it is also important that UEFA and these groups work with fans to educate them and explain how and why racist actions are unacceptable. 45 Taking a moralising tone will push certain masculine fan groups into acts of resistance, some of whom feel persecuted by the authorities. In some cases, sanctions bring about the very behaviour the punishment is attempting to stop as the fans resist and rebel against authority. 46 Fines should be used to encourage education schemes and stadium closures should only be the last resort. It is imperative that authorities and groups work with fans as they often have led the way in challenging racism in football.

Anti-racism in European football

The failure of the authorities to tackle racism in football has resulted in players and fans taking the initiative themselves. The 1990s were a significant time for the politicisation of football fans in Europe. 47 The economic changes that transformed the sport into a global media spectacle encouraged many fans to mobilise to challenge the changes as they felt that fans were losing control of their clubs, and owners were focused on extracting profits rather than good sport. Many of these Independent Supporters Associations and ultras groups incorporated anti-racism and anti-discrimination into their activities. Other groups also emerged to challenge racism in football. This coincided with many black players openly criticising racism in the game. In the past they were encouraged to develop a thick skin, as was suggested for Emmanuel Frimpong in Russia. By the 1990s, the players from the third generation of immigrants in Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands were increasingly vocal about racism. It was the combination of fans and players that helped challenge the conservatism and inaction of the clubs and authorities.

Ironically, it was the actions of a white player, Eric Cantona, which helped propel the issue of discrimination into the public spotlight in England. 48 In 1995 Manchester United’s mercurial French striker was sent off in a game against Crystal Palace. As he trudged off the pitch towards the changing room, he suddenly jumped into the crowd, feet first, and struck a Crystal Palace fan called Matthew Simmonds square in the chest. This kung fu kick became an instant media sensation and Cantona was roundly condemned. He was banned from playing for ten months and ordered to undertake community engagement work. This situation also highlighted the abuse that was directed at Cantona by Simmonds. Cantona’s nationality was invoked and he was told to ‘fuck off back to France’, alongside some other choice words. For decades, footballers of Afro-Caribbean heritage have been abused in similar and more systematic ways and told, like Emmanuel Frimpong, to ‘turn the other cheek’. Cantona received similar abuse and reacted. Although he received widespread condemnation from the authorities and media, as a white European, Cantona remained in a privileged position. Had he been less skilful, or of Afro-Caribbean heritage, it is unlikely he would have been allowed to recover his career.

Many grassroots, fan-led anti-racism initiatives emerged during the 1990s. In Poland, the Nigdy WiÄ™cej (Never Again) association formed in 1992 to challenge the growing racism in the country after the fall of communism. Highlighting the conflation of racism and fascism during this period, the Bündnis antifaschistischer Fanclubs und Faninitiativen (BAFF, Association of Antifascist Fan Clubs and Fan Initiatives) was formed in Germany in 1993. This name was changed to the Association of Active Football Fans in 1998. In Britain, the first anti-racist fan group was established in 1994 under the title of Leeds Fans United Against Racism and Fascism. Again, this highlighted the mistaken link between fascism and racism. Not all racists identified as fascist, so challenging their behaviours required a more nuanced approach. These organisations utilised similar approaches to raise awareness, lobby authorities, and directly challenge racist behaviour.

Italy was the site of one of the more innovative projects to challenge the growing racism in stadiums. The Emilia-Romagna section of Unione Italiana Sport Per tutti (UISP) helped establish Progetto Ultra, an organisation that sought to work with the hardcore fans, the ultras, in order to educate them about racism and fascism. Progetto Ultra was also important because it became a space to break down barriers between rival fans and discuss a wide range of issues that affected ultras and fans. Progetto Ultra is no longer funded, but its legacy remains with the Mondiali Antirazzisti (‘Anti-Racist World Cup’). This annual event began in 1997 and takes place in Emilia-Romagna every July. Over 200 teams attend and the format has been expanded to include other sports like basketball, cricket, and rugby. Crucially, the tournament is non-competitive and seeks to be an inclusive space that can break down barriers between groups. 49 The challenge for the Mondiali, as with other anti-racist initiatives, is to reach beyond those groups who already engage in anti-racism activities.

Kick It Out in England demonstrates the successes and challenges of anti-racism campaigns in football. Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football was launched by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Professional Footballers’ Association in 1993. It changed its name to Kick It Out in 1997. When the campaign was launched, the Alive and Still Kicking report highlighted how many clubs did not see racism as a priority. 50 More strikingly, some clubs did not want to be associated with the campaign since they believed that fans might think they were racist. Since then, the campaign has been successful in raising awareness of racism in football, not just in stadiums, but in relation to under-representation of minority groups in administration and coaching and codes of practice within the amateur game. Kick It Out has worked seriously with the authorities to tackle the issue of racism, as well as clearly reporting levels of racist abuse. It has developed ways to make it easier to report racist abuse through education of clubs and stewards, as well as launching an app for smartphones that allows fans to anonymously report abuse.

As the campaign has developed, it has also attracted some criticism. Working closely with the authorities can lead to accusations that it is not working with fan groups or players. Much of the funding comes from the FA, Premier League, and Professional Footballers’ Association. Since the Premier League has rescinded funding for Supporters Direct (an organisation to campaign for fan democracy) after critical comments made by former chief executive Dave Boyle, organisations like Kick It Out can be viewed as politically compromised. Yet, this has to be seen in light of the limited funds and a small number of staff. A year after the Suárez and Terry incidents, a number of black footballers refused to wear Kick It Out T-shirts that called for an end to racism. Jason Roberts was the most vocal of the protesters, arguing that Kick It Out was not strong enough to challenge the authorities. Roberts believed that the T-shirts were an empty gesture and the organisation needed to show they were strong enough and represented his experiences of football. While these organisations and campaigns have achieved some relative success, the fact that racism is still being discussed within European football shows that alternative approaches need to be utilised.

Anti-racism initiatives like Kick It Out and Never Again are significantly underfunded and this limits the impact they can make. They also tend to operate independently of fan groups, which can lead to resentment from supporters. In Germany there is an alternative approach to challenging fans’ anti-social behaviour. These fan projects work with fans to educate them about the impact of their actions. They are partly funded by the club and the regional authorities and work as social work projects. Importantly, the role of the football club is vital when communicating with fans. 51 At Borussia Dortmund, for example, the fan project has access to the stadium for workshops, which are attended by the star players. This helps to create a clear link between the football club and the anti-racism message. As fans remain more loyal to the club, rather than the football federations, rival fan groups, or anti-racism organisations, the message becomes unsullied by perceived political connotations. More importantly, Borussia Dortmund actively works with the fan project and other fan groups to listen to their suggestions as to how to tackle discrimination. The club supported an initiative, organised by the ultras group The Unity and the fan project, to visit Auschwitz. Borussia Dortmund lent the fan project their team bus so young fans could see the potential impact of racism, and its links to German and Dortmund history.

Poland has recently adopted a similar scheme, called Kibice Razem (‘Fans United’) and trialled at seven different clubs. 52 Because of the different civil society traditions in each European nation, there are a variety of challenges for these schemes. In Poland, the Kibice Razem is almost building civil society from its base. There is a reason fan projects started in Germany – there is a more cooperative culture between the state and community groups. The libertarian traditions of British political culture means that this approach would be more complicated in England. Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) in Sheffield is rather unique in this respect. It is a youth work organisation that works with the local youth community to educate and support their life choices. They work with both football clubs in Sheffield (Wednesday and United) and visits schools and prisons. They set up an initiative called Streetkick, which took inflatable goals to different neighbourhoods and used football as a way of educating players on the impact of racism. 53 The success of this approach has resulted in its adoption by fan projects in Germany as groups and campaigns share ideas across Europe.

The difficulty for anti-racism groups is that differences and rivalry are seen as fundamental parts of the game by the dominant masculine groups that claim legitimacy over the sport. As Ratna shows, it is not possible to tackle discrimination of female British Asians by only focusing on racism. 54 Anti-sexist agendas are also important for the inclusion of women from black and ethnic minority groups. In recent years, FARE, Kick It Out and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) have expanded their focus to include other forms of discrimination. Kick It Out has changed its subtitle to ‘Tackling Racism & Discrimination’, while FARE also has anti-homophobia campaigns. The FSF has launched the ‘Fans for Diversity’ campaign under the stewardship of former West Ham United player Anwar Uddin. This project seeks to bring in fans from all its communities, including fans who are disabled, LGBTQI, and black and ethnic minorities. Strikingly, fans with disabilities have also been less visible in these campaigns. Organisations like Level Playing Field and Centre for Accessibility in Football Europe (CAFE) are raising awareness of this issue. Slowly, the different organisations are becoming more collaborative, which is important when communicating a clear message.

There is a clear European approach to anti-racism and discrimination developing across the continent. While the 1990s saw a number of nationally based organisations emerge to tackle the problem of racism, the twenty-first century has seen European-wide groups established. These include CAFE, the European Gay and Lesbian Network, and Football Supporters Europe. Specifically related to racism and discrimination, Football Against Racism Europe was established from a variety of anti-racism groups, supporters associations, and fan projects from across Europe in 1999. FARE is supported by UEFA and helps organise the fan embassies at UEFA events like the European Championships. These spaces help communicate anti-racism messages and the UEFA ‘respect’ agenda.


Football’s popularity is unsurpassed as a global sporting activity. It can bring people together from different backgrounds, ages, and genders. But it also provides opportunities to distinguish yourself and your group from others through abuse, violence, racism, and discrimination. Racism remains one of the most prevalent anti-social behaviours associated with football. From sustained abuse directed at Mario Balotelli in England and Italy to Zenit St Petersburg fans calling for the club to only sign Slavic or Scandinavian players, racism is a pervasive problem in European football. For racism to be eliminated from the game, it requires action from all sections of football. This includes the fans themselves, governing bodies, media, politicians, and players. UEFA and some national federations have reinforced a clear message in an attempt to underline the importance of anti-racism, but some fans view their actions with suspicion. Likewise, anti-racism campaigns like FARE, Kick It Out, and Never Again are important in producing the literature, guidance, and training to help educate various groups about the extent and various ways racism manifests itself. But they also have to be careful not to be seen to be distant from football fans.

It is important to understand the nuanced and shifting nature of racism in football. Often racism is located in inter-club rivalries and is used as another form of abuse to denigrate rivals. Not all racism is ideologically driven. While certain fan groups, like the ultras, want to be confrontational, not all fans do. Rather than immediately enforcing sanctions that impact all fans, or making empty gestures advocating ‘no to racism’, authorities need to engage in educational projects that communicate the impact of racism and abuse to fans, coaches, and directors. These approaches have worked well with FURD, fan projects, and Kibice Razem. They need to be safe spaces that allow trust to be built and cross-cultural understanding fostered. The danger of treating all fans as potentially racist will only succeed in alienating these fans and potentially make the situation worse.

Most importantly, authorities have to recognise that racism is not only committed by fans. There are structural issues impacting racism, and the continued under-representation of women, disabled, LGBTQI, and people from black and ethnic minorities in administration, boardrooms, and coaching of the game highlight that there is a long way to go before racism is eliminated from European football. Football is a powerful tool that can potentially bring people of different backgrounds together. There are many fan groups and anti-racism campaigns across Europe and they are sharing ideas and experiences and providing spaces that help to remove barriers and promote cross-cultural understandings. It is important to acknowledge that football unites people in a shared passion and that should be the focus.


S. Martin, Football and Fascism (Oxford: Berg, 2004).

M. Doidge, Football Italia: Italian Football in an era of Globalisation (London: Bloomsbury, 2015); M. Doidge, ‘Il Calcio as a Source of Local and Social Identity in Italy’, in U. Merkel, ed., Identity Discourses and Communities in International Events, Festivals and Spectacles (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

G. Armstrong, Football Hooligans: Knowing the Score (Oxford: Berg, 1998); E. Dunning, P. Murphy, and J. Williams, The Roots of Football Hooliganism: An Historical and Sociological Study (London: Routledge, 1988); R. Spaaij, Understanding Football Hooliganism: A Comparison of Six Western European Football Clubs (Amsterdam: Vossiuspers UvA – Amsterdam University Press, 2006); Doidge, Football Italia.

A. King, The European Ritual: Football in the New Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).

Doidge, Football Italia.

C. Podaliri and C. Balestri, ‘The Ultras, Racism and Football Culture in Italy’, in A. Brown, ed., Fanatics! Power, Identity and Fandom in Football (London: Routledge, 1998), 95.

Doidge, Football Italia.

M. Doidge, Anti-racism in European Football: Report to UEFA (Brighton: University of Brighton, 2015).

L. Back, T. Crabbe, and J. Solomos, The Changing Face of Football (Oxford: Berg, 2001).

R. De Biasi and P. Lanfranchi, ‘The Importance of Difference: Football Identities in Italy’, in G. Armstrong and R. Giulianotti, eds, Entering the Field: New Perspectives on World Football (Oxford: Berg, 1997), 87–104.

Back et al., The Changing Face of Football.

King, The European Ritual.

M. Doidge, ‘“If You Jump Up and Down, Balotelli Dies”: Racism and Player Abuse in Italian Football’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport 50, 3 (2015), 249–64.

Back et al., The Changing Face of Football.



Ibid.; F. Müller, L. van Zoonen, and L. de Roode, ‘Accidental Racists: Experiences and Contradictions of Racism in Local Amsterdam Soccer Fan Culture’, Soccer & Society, 8, 2–3 (2007), 335–50.

Back et al., The Changing Face of Football; Müller et al., ‘Accidental Racists’.

J. Garland and M. Rowe, Racism and Anti-Racism in Football (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), 52.

Doidge, Anti-Racism in European Football.

Garland and Rowe, Racism and Anti-Racism in Football.

D. Burdsey, British Asians and Football (London: Routledge, 2007), 105.

J. Van Sterkenburg, ‘Thinking “Race” and Ethnicity in (Dutch) Sports Policy Research’, in J. Long and K. Spracklen, eds, Sport and Challenges to Racism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Doidge, ‘If You Jump Up and Down, Balotelli Dies’.

Back et al., The Changing Face of Football.

Doidge, Football Italia.

Doidge, ‘If You Jump Up and Down, Balotelli Dies’.

D. Burdsey, Race, Ethnicity and Football: Persisting Debates and Emergent Issues (London: Routledge, 2011).

D. Burdsey, ‘One Week in October: Luis Suárez, John Terry and the Turn to Racial Neoliberalism in English Men’s Professional Football’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 21, 5 (2014), 429–47.

Burdsey, Race, Ethnicity and Football, 5.

D.T. Goldberg, The Threat of Race (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 331.

Goldberg, The Threat of Race, 362–3.

J. Rodriguez, ‘Color-blind Ideology and the Cultural Appropriation of Hip-Hop’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35, 6 (2006), 645.

Burdsey, ‘One Week in October’.

J. Long, P. Robinson, and K. Spracklen, ‘Promoting Racial Equality within Sports Organisations’, Journal of Sport and Social Issues 29, 1 (2005), 41–59.

A. Ratna, ‘A “Fair Game”? British Asian Females’ Experiences of Racism in Women’s Football’, in J. Magee, J. Caudwell, K. Liston, and S. Scraton, eds, Women, Football and Europe: Histories, Equity and Experiences (Oxford: Meyer and Meyer Sport, 2007), 77–96.

Back et al., The Changing Face of Football, 164.

J. Long and M. McNamee, ‘On the Moral Economy of Racism and Racist Rationalizations in Sport’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport 39, 4 (2004), 405–20.

Burdsey, Race, Ethnicity and Football.

L. Back, T. Crabbe, and J. Solomos, ‘Beyond the Racist/Hooligan Couplet: Race, Social Theory and Football Culture’, British Journal of Sociology 50, 3 (1999), 419–42; Back et al., The Changing Face of Football; Müller et al., ‘Accidental Racists’.

Müller et al., ‘Accidental Racists’.

Doidge, Football Italia.

Doidge, Football Italia, 160.

S. Ahmed, ‘The Non-Performativity of Anti-Racism’, Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 7, 1 (2006), 104–26; K. Hylton, ‘How a Turn to Critical Race Theory Can Contribute to Our Understanding of “Race”, Racism and Anti-Racism in Sport’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport 45, 3 (2010), 335–54.

Doidge, Football Italia.

Doidge, Anti-racism in European Football.

Doidge, Anti-racism in European Football; Doidge, Football Italia.

King, The European Ritual.

Back et al., The Changing Face of Football.

D. Sterchele and C. Saint-Blancat, ‘Keeping it Liminal: The Mondiali Antirazzisti (Anti-racist World Cup) as a Multifocal Interaction Ritual’, Leisure Studies 34, 2 (2015), 182–96.

AGARI, Alive and Still Kicking (London: Advisory Group Against Racism and Intimidation, 1996).

Doidge, Anti-racism in European Football.


R. Johnson, ‘Football Unites, Racism Divides’, in C. Kassimiris, ed., Anti-Racism in European Football: Fair Play for All (Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2009).

A. Ratna, ‘“Taking the Power Back!”: The Politics of British-Asian football players’, Young: Nordic Journal of Youth Research 18, 2 (2010), 117–32.

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