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European soccer is having another reckoning over racism – is it time to accept the problem goes beyond bad fans?

John M Sloop, Professor of Communication Studies, Vanderbilt University, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

Soccer authorities – usually wary of political statements and quick to punish players who display protest slogans on shirts – by and large allowed players free expression in regard to Floyd’s killing and the protests it sparked.

Indeed, after restarting a pandemic-struck season in June 2020, the English Premier League promoted an active Black Lives Matter campaign. This included “Black Lives Matter” patches on uniforms – although patches were later amended to read “No Room for Racism” – and allowing the taking of the knee before games. Three years on, many players and teams still take a knee before games throughout England.

But it hasn’t stopped the abuse. In 2020, while players on the pitch were presenting a unified front against anti-Black racism, British Home Office Minister Susan Williams observed that racist incidents had risen for the third year in a row.

Soccer leagues in southern Europe tended to leave it to clubs and individuals to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, rather than having any blanket policies akin to that of the English Football Association.

But again, it appears to have had little effect on crowd racism.

Italian soccer continues to garner a reputation for racism among its fan base. While examples are numerous, the most recent cases include verbal attacks against Lecce defender Samuel Umtiti and forward Lameck Banda while playing at Lazio, and racists taunts against Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku after he scored against Juventus in a Copa Italia semifinal.


In Spain, after the latest Vinícius incident, football federation chief Luis Rubiales acknowledged that racism was a problem in the league. It would be hard not to: The abuse of May 21 was at least the 10th racist incident against the Brazilian star that Real Madrid has reported to the league this season.

The diplomatic fallout of the Vinícius abuse – Brazil summoned the Spanish ambassador, and Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue was shrouded in darkness in protest – has reignited discussion of what action needs to be taken to stamp out racism in the game.

Spanish police have made several arrests over Vinícius’ abuse. Meanwhile, La Liga has fined Valencia – the team Real Madrid was playing – 45,000 euros (US$48,000) and closed a portion of the stadium for the next five games.

But given how persistent crowd racism has been in the face of numerous attempts to challenge it, I believe it is fair to ask if such disciplinary actions will have any real impact now.


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