Football world disowns racist Chelsea fans

Black, white and blue: Chelsea fans back a message of tolerance and unity © PA

A group of Chelsea fans who were caught on camera racially abusing a stranger on the Parisian metro have been tracked down by fellow supporters. Is sport the problem or part of the solution?

‘Black or white, we are all blue,’ proclaimed the giant banner that passed along the stands during this weekend’s match between Chelsea and Burnley. ‘No racism at the Bridge’, urged banners held aloft by fans, while Chelsea’s players warmed up in T-shirts trumpeting ‘equality’.

Chelsea Football Club and its fans were determined to present an image of football as a force for tolerance and unity. But a shocking video that emerged last week suggests a much uglier truth.

The one-minute long film, shot on a mobile phone on the Paris Metro, shows a group of men returning from Chelsea’s game against Paris Saint-Germain. When a black man attempts to board a crowded carriage, the English fans aggressively shove him back onto the platform. Perplexed, the man tries again. Again he is pushed away. Then the vile chant begins: ‘We’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.’

British football was once a notorious nest of xenophobia and racial abuse. Black players were regularly pelted with bananas and monkey chants, while many non-white fans preferred to stay away from stadiums during match days for safety’s sake. But after decades of hard work by anti-racist campaigns like Kick It Out, the sport’s image has gradually improved.

Most fans are desperate to avoid any sense that the spectre of prejudice still lingers. Chelsea appealed for supporters to help track down the people responsible for the racist abuse, and yesterday the search ended in success: the Metropolitan Police have identified three suspects, who may now face trial and a possible prison sentence in France.

Yet while the incident has been greeted with near-universal disgust, there is less consensus on what it says about football. In a rare instance of accord, Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho and his Arsenal rival Arsene Wenger are both adamant that racism is a problem in ‘society’ rather than footballing culture. Are they right?

A sport of bother?

Many football supporters would agree with Wenger and Mourinho. In many ways, the sport has in fact advanced the cause of tolerance and diversity: football teams are some of the most multicultural groups in Britain today. Fans of nearly every club count players from a huge variety of nationalities and ethnicities among their heroes. Racism is a social problem, some say; football is part of the solution.

But not everybody is so convinced of football’s innocence. Every week, some point out, hundreds of thousands of people crowd into stadiums to roar support for one group of men and hurl abuse at another based on nothing more substantial than the colour of their shirt. It’s no great leap from that socially acceptable form of tribalism to something far more malignant.

You Decide

  1. Does football have a racism problem?
  2. If you supported a football team and one of your fellow fans was caught being racist, would you feel ashamed? Should you?

Activities

  1. Roleplay a situation in which you witness a group of people being racist. How do you think you ought to respond?
  2. Design a banner to be displayed at football matches urging for an end to racism.

Some People Say...

“It’s no more rational to judge people by the colour of their shirts than the colour of their skin.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is racism really still an issue these days?
Yes. It might not be as socially acceptable as it once was, but non-white people are still widely discriminated against and racial stereotypes are hugely prevalent in the media.
Well, I think it’s ridiculous to judge someone by the colour of their skin.
Good. But don’t be complacent: we’ve all been exposed to racial stereotypes, so we’re all at risk of lapsing into racist modes of thought. Repeated psychological studies have shown, for instance, that almost everybody is quicker to associate negative adjectives with pictures of black people than white — even if the subjects of the experiment are themselves black. Not judging someone on the basis of their race requires constant vigilance.

Word Watch

The Bridge
Chelsea’s stadium is called Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s players
This is not the first time that Chelsea has been embroiled in a controversy over racism. In 2011, the club captain John Terry appeared to shout racist abuse at a player from the opposing team. He was eventually banned for four games and stripped of the England captaincy.
Paris Metro
The Parisian underground train network. It is famous for its distinctive art nouveau style (including in particular cast iron entrances) and artwork.
Kick It Out
Originally called ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’, this campaign was founded in 1993 with the mission of making racism unacceptable among British football fans. Many people credit the organisation with aiding the decline in racist chants, but some (including former England captain Rio Ferdinand) accuse it of failing to push for harsh enough punishments.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.