Thursday, October 18, 2012

Serbia must face international ban

Shortly after the melee that ensued after the final whistle of England's 1-0 European Championship win over Serbia, video surfaced on YouTube of Serbian supporters audibly directing monkey chants towards England's Danny Rose (below). Rose, understandably, reacted angrily to the racist chants and kicked a ball into the crowd, an action that would earn him a second yellow. He has since said that the racist chanting had gone on all game and that he was twice hit by stones thrown from the Krusevac crowd, claims captain Jordan Henderson has since confirmed.

The behavior from the Serbian supporters was disgraceful but hardly surprising for a nation with a well documented history of racially motivated taunts and violent behavior at football matches. In 2003 Serbian ultras directed racial abuse at black Wales players. In 2007 black England U-21 international Nedum Onuoha was the victim of racist chanting. In a Euro 2012 qualifier in Genoa last year, the referee was forced to abandon the game after Serbian ultras clashed with police and threw flares on the field. All of these incidents were met with farcically weak punishments from UEFA. At best the Serbian FA has shown an inability to deal with racism and crowd violence. At worst, they've shown an unwillingness to do so. Their behavior in the aftermath of yesterday's incident suggests the latter.

Despite the clear video evidence proving the contrary, the Serbian FA released a statement saying there were no instances of racism throughout the match and that in fact Rose was to blame for the fracas that broke out after the final whistle.

The Serbian FA statement said,
"FA of Serbia absolutely refuses and denies that there were any occurrences of racism before and during the match at the stadium in Kruševac. Making connection between the seen incident - a fight between members of the two teams - and racism has absolutely no ground and we consider it to be a total malevolence."

With regards to Rose the statement said,
"Unfortunately, after the fourth minute of the additional time and the victory goal scored by the guest team, unpleasant scenes were seen at the pitch. And while most of the English team players celebrated the score, their player number 3, Danny Rose, behaved in inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar manner towards the supporters on the stands at the stadium in Kruševac, and for that he was shown a red card. Unfortunately, it would turn out that was the moment the incident, that later developed, had started."
This official statement from the Serbian FA casts at least as big a shadow on Serbian football as the behavior of its fans in Krusevac. Rose was guilty of nothing more than representing his country as a black person. For the Serbian FA to deny the claims of racial abuse when evidence proves it happened and to somehow blame the victim of that abuse for the violent scenes is disgraceful. It shows they have no interest in cleaning up their act and that their FA is in fact complicit in the unsavory fan behavior. By denying there was any racism shown Tuesday evening, their FA is effectively saying to Serbian fans, "do what you please, we'll deny any claims against you rather than try to stop your behavior."

UEFA has to ban Serbia from all international competition for an extended period of time. The safety of black players should be the main focus of UEFA when they look into this incident. How can UEFA conscionably send a black footballer to play in an environment that clearly isn't a safe one for him? As long as Serbia continues to create an intimidating environment inside their stadiums, and continues to make no effort to change, they don't deserve the right to play in any international tournaments at any level.

UEFA president Michel Platini warned Serbia in February of last year that if they didn't control their fans they'd face expulsion from future club and international tournaments. Serbia has clearly failed on that front. If Platini fails to follow through on his warning, FIFA and UEFA will lose the tiny amount of credibility they have left.

While condemnation of the Serbian supporters' behavior has been nearly universal, a few folks in the British media were displeased with Rose's reaction to the racial abuse. Former professional footballer Paul Parker, himself a victim of racial abuse during his playing days in England, suggested Rose should have kept his dignity, walked down the tunnel and "saved his complaint for the official channels." But what have the official channels, ie UEFA, done to combat the problem of racism? On more than one occasion the behavior of certain Serbian fans has disgraced the sport yet UEFA continues to give them slaps on the wrist as punishment in the form of trivial fines and one match stadium bans. If black players continue to simply walk down the tunnel when they've been racially abused as though nothing has happened, as Parker suggests, the official channels will be all too happy to sweep the incidents under the rug and move on as though nothing did in fact happen. Roses's reaction raised the profile of this event around the world. People are demanding UEFA, for once, react strongly to the disreputable and dangerous behavior of Serbian fans. Contrary to what Parker suggests, Rose acted with an incredible amount of dignity- he stood up to intolerant, unacceptable behavior despite the threat of violence from Serbian players and fans. It's time for UEFA to do the same.

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