Racism in Spanish Football
This month’s Guardian Sports Monthly has a feature on racism in Spanish football by Martin Jacques (former editor of Marxism Today fame). Most of you are probably not aware that amongst my many and diverse interests are football – not the American type with 10s of giants running around in fancy dress crashing into each other for hours on end – but the real stuff known by aficionados as "the beautiful game" – soccer, football, futball, fuutbal and so on.
Racism is rampant in the game here in Europe. The English FA (Football Association) has made considerable strides in ridding the national sport of racial abuse in the stands, dressing rooms and on the field through its Kick racism out of football campaign. This is not to say as Jacques quite rightly points out, that racism does not exist in English football because it most certainly does at all levels. Commentators, 99.9% of managers, coaches, FA officials, agents, referees are all white. Football reflects society, in England and here in Spain and the same is true in the US and elsewhere. Just because racism is not tolerated doesn’t mean it has been eliminated, it just goes underground.
Football is a multiracial game only on the pitch. The facts speak for
themselves. There are no black managers in the Premiership. There are
only three black managers in the whole Football League: Leroy Rosenior
at Torquay, Keith Alexander at Lincoln and Carlton Palmer at Mansfield.
Every member of the board of the Premiership clubs, bar one, is white —
and it is the boards that appoint the managers. Only 2 per cent of the
management staff and 4 per cent of the administrative staff are
non-white. Less than 1 per cent of season-ticket holders at Premiership
clubs are black or Asian. There is one predictable exception to this
virtual white-out. A fifth of ‘other staff’ — catering, turnstiles,
cleaning — are non-white. ………"It is a white man’s club"
Nevertheless in other European countries particularly Italy, Spain and the Eastern European block racism is out there in the wide open stands and pitches, blatant and vile. In Spain this season alone has seen some of the worst racial abuse not just at club games but also in the national side such as when Spain played England.
In another incident, Spain’s coach described Arsenal striker Thierry Henry as "that Black shit" and for his words he was fined a pittance, 3000 euros or a day’s salary. I have been at Spanish league matches so I know what its like to be Black in the stands and on the pitch with monkey noises and who knows what else as my Spanish does not extend to "football language" and swear words. I no longer go to Spanish matches and I recognise fully that the crude racism on the terraces is the true expression of Spanish society’s prejudices against immigrants, Blacks, people of colour and gitanos. What is even more sinister is the state of denial by the Spanish media including the broadsheets, Spanish football authorities and government officials.
Jacques points out that "football has become the fault line of European racism" why?
not simply because it is the popular male discourse bar none, but
because, far more than in any other activity, black and brown people
are present in large numbers and, as players, are the subjects of our
emotions and passions. The football stadium — like nowhere else in
society — brings white men, in the form of the crowd (the latter
everywhere in Europe remains overwhelmingly white), into contact with
black men, the players. Football, like nothing else, confronts European
society with its own history, culture and prejudice. It is a racial
The irony of this is that elsewhere in the world – Africa, Asia and Latin America with the exception of a minority in Latin America, the majority of players and fans are people of colour. The streets of Lagos, Sao Paulo, Casablanca, Seoul and Calcutta are full of the next generation of top class footballers, learning the craft on hard dirt in bare feet, who will be the ones to bring cups of glory to Euro football clubs.