Continued racism in European soccer comes despite a rise in soccer’s “cosmopolitanism” culture. Prior to the 1990s, Black players in the top European leagues were relatively few and far between – especially in countries where nonwhite players would fear being subjected to racist taunts from their own supporters, as well as the opposition’s.
But modern-day fans have long become accustomed to supporting a racially diverse team. So why does racism in stadiums persist? Political scientist and sociologists Andrei Markovits and Lars Rensmann point out in “Gaming the World” that the rise in cosmopolitanism on the field is not reflected in the stands – that is, in European leagues, the makeup of fan bases is not as diverse as that of the team they go to cheer on. Markovits and Rensmann argue that what we are witnessing in the stands is a kind of “counter-cosmopolitanism” in which the “other” is treated with anger and suspicion because they are deemed to threaten the stable sense of identity of some fans.
If the racial makeup of teams is not reflective of the fan base, it also isn’t reflected in management, or among the people who govern the sport.
Analysis conducted in May 2022 found that of the 98 clubs that played in the five most prestigious European leagues – the English Premier League, La Liga, and Italy’s Seria A, along with Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 – only two had Black managers. La Liga had none, and still doesn’t.
As England striker Raheem Sterling noted in a 2020 interview: “There’s something like 500 players in the Premier League and a third of them are Black, and we have no representation of us in the hierarchy, no representation of us in the coaching staffs.”
While there is certainly some merit in the actions being taken in Spain to address behavior in the stands in the aftermath of the latest Vinícius incident, there is an argument that it is too little, too late. Moreover, it does little to address more institutionalized racism in the game. And to date, anti-racism programs and fines have failed to stamp out racism in soccer.
As Sterling noted, “When there’s more Black people in positions, when I can have someone from a Black background … (to) be able to go to in the [Football Association] with a problem I have within the club – these will be the times that I know that change is happening.”
How apartheid, European racism and Pelé helped cultivate a culture of diversity in US soccer that endures into the MLS
Pelé: a global superstar and cultural icon who put passion at the heart of soccer
John M Sloop does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.