BY PATRICK MacDONALD
Soccer, while beautiful, is far from a perfect game and is often marred by off-field issues like the cronyism that infects FIFA. However, one of those warts seems to be getting more infectious and ugly with each new report; racism in the European game. Despite the “best” efforts of those in charge, the battle sadly seems to be making little to no gains.
Racism in European football is nothing new. The problem was bad enough in 1999 that “Football Against Racism in Europe” (FARE) was started. 14 years later, the reports of racism, and the shocking organizational fearlessness of its perpetrators are coming in at an alarming rate. There’s the Zenit St. Petersburg Ultras group that doesn’t want any non Slavic players. There’s the racist taunts towards Kevin-Prince Boateng that caused AC Milan to walk of the field in a match. There’s the racist taunts towards Jozy Altidore in the Netherlands. There’s reports of racism coming out of Millwall in the English Championship. AC Milan the victims again, and Mario Balotelli in particular twice this month, at the hands of their Inter rivals.
Want further evidence that it’s a problem that just isn’t going away? Inter’s president Massimo Moratti expressed outrage on February 11th at the first incident and promised there would be no repeat. Sunday’s reprehensible display by Inter fans should dim even the most optimistic fan’s hopes for change. It’s a disturbing and disgusting trend that seems to mirror 1920′s America when racial tensions brought forth such reprehensible groups like the Klan.
The players have all been applauded for keeping their chins up in the face of these animals. The question is, when is enough enough? When does FIFA’s taciturn reaction to the problem become enough for these players to pack their bags and say, “See ya later, I’ll take my services elsewhere.”
The fact is, there is one affluent country where this reprehensible behavior absolutely would not occur.
That is the United States of America (well, you too Canada) – and by extension, Major League Soccer.
Major League Soccer should become a model of fan behavior and a haven for players who have to deal with racism in Europe because the very simple fact is they shouldn’t have to deal with it to begin with.
MLS has declared it wants to be one of the top leagues by 2022 (though their snail’s pace financial plan makes one wonder if that’s feasible). If they start opening the checkbooks some more, they can provide a tough, yet friendly league for players of color to ply their trade. The quality in MLS would go up while the players would be able to play in peace and the idiots in Europe would be left wondering why their teams suddenly aren’t as good anymore.
Sure, Thierry Henry has voiced a worthy suggestion that teams who’s fans display this filthy behavior should be deducted points, but the fact remains that attitudes don’t change because of some blanket rule; if anything, it’ll only entrench bitterness.
The U.S. is a melting pot built upon a strong minority population. It is the kind of world Europe can only dream of having (err, or not dream of judging by the rabble attending some of these matches). Europe will never be integrated like the United States is and thus it’s truly hard to see the problems of racism ever really going away.
Considering how progressive we are, is it any shock to see the countries diversity reflected in the the United States Men’s National Team? The USMNT has a number of German born and raised/half African American players on it’s team. In their native country, they have a history of referring to them as “Brown Babies” or in German, “mischlingskinder.
This is what makes our country so special.
It’s the 21st Century. Racism should have no place in this world and we should be long passed the days when Jackie Robinson bravely put up with such nonsense. This country has been a life line for all kinds of people in the past. Once again, it can do the same for professional soccer players of color.
The MLS just needs to open its checkbook. When that happens, these players who have suffered such abuse can find their home as many others have in the past; within the United States. The benefits of playing in North America would not only be professional, but they would be moral as well and would help continue to build upon this countries bedrock immigrant story.