Progress/Qui Bono?

I do not intend this space to become a forum for discussing recent events in football. There exist enough blogs that do this better than I could, and my writing is sufficiently bad that pieces that I consecrate less than a month’s worth of editing to might be totally unreadable. Nonetheless every once in a while one becomes particularly annoyed by something, and the only way to vent that anger is by writing about it.

In the last 24 hours much hot air has been expelled in the English sporting press over the measures imposed against the Serbian FA by the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body. A lot of the criticism comes from the same template as the generic ‘crisis’ articles that are trotted out on a weekly basis. A sermon about the ‘obvious’ deficiencies followed either by a suggested solution that is totally unworkable [1][2], or by more sanctimonious criticism with no proposed solution at all

The lack of realistic, workable proposed solutions, not to mention the lack of even the merest hint of nuance in these comment pieces only prompts further questions. These three came to my mind first:

What kind of fine would be deemed “sufficient”?

Who benefits, long term, from this fine?

How often are the victims of an injustice content with the punishment handed out to those found guilty?

Having watched press statements from the steps outside court-houses on the evening news most nights for the last twenty years, I would suggest that the answer to the third of these questions is ‘almost never’. I do not think any sanction would be enough for the English contingent in Krusevac (and Danny Rose in particular) given the abuse they went through in October. But, harsh as it sounds, the victims of a crime should have as little to do with the penal process as possible because for them the motivation is retribution, which helps no-one.

You could probably multiply the fine by ten and it would still be derided as insufficient by the English press, for whom UEFA could do nothing right even before this incident[3]. The efficacy of any kind of fine has been called into question and this is a position I agree with. I do not see how a fine will help. If the issue is the Serbian authorities’ inability to control crowds then surely the playing of matches behind closed doors would be the only workable solution[4]. My main point of disagreement with the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body’s ruling is that they only ordered the Serbian u21 team to play a single match behind closed doors. At least two matches for both the u21 and senior side, as well as a ban on travelling support, would seem a more fitting decision given the recent history of problems, related to racism or otherwise, with Serbian fans both at home and abroad[5].  But the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body’s judgement is subject to appeal (not least by the wider organisation itself) so we can wait for the final outcome before discussing its worth/spouting more thoughtless bile.

Finally, a note on progress. Whenever incidents of this nature come up the articles in the English press are full of badly and probably quickly-written invective with barely concealed disdain that these other countries are not as progressive as England is when it comes to matters of prejudice in sport.

In England, after more than a quarter of a century of effort[6], some progress has been made. Clubs that previously never bought black players now do and some of the fans that never wanted their clubs to buy black players now cheers on the ones they have. When the England captain called Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt” there was widespread outrage. This is in a society that is widely praised for its multicultural make-up, something that undeniably facilitates combating prejudice of this nature. But that society is itself a legacy of a racist colonial era. If England is less racist than most countries it is because of the enormous head start it enjoyed economically. This facilitated a colonial policy. This brought back home people of various ethnicities. The presence of these people, over a period of decades, has helped to combat racism. This racism is still present, but the point has now been reached where it is socially unacceptable.

Racism may cease to be a problem in English football in 50 years[7]. In other countries this will take longer. With regards to the values held by society, progress of any kind takes a long time. That we deplore racism does not change the fact that it will take generations to disappear. Screaming about Niklas Bendtner’s pants and calling for Serbia to be ostracised from international football will do nothing to help this process. We would like the fans in Serbia to think before they shout. How about the tub-thumpers in the English sporting press do the same? And why not talk instead of shout?


[1] It makes me chuckle that Henry Winter crowbars a reference to Sinisa Mihajlovic into his article. What his relevance to the matter at hand is I am not entirely sure, unless Winter’s point is to show us how all Serbians are alike. Interesting too that he fails, like more or less everyone who has said anything on the various racism-based altercations between Serbs and the English over the last few years except Jonathan Wilson, to mention that Mihajlovic was apparently reacting to a racist insult that came from Vieira. An accusation that went uninvestigated. Racism against the Roma, and gypsy populations in general, is still socially acceptable.

[2] Common in both kinds of articles are references to ‘Mr Platini’, that famous enemy of all things English, as if the head of UEFA was personally responsible for reviewing the evidence and handing out the punishments.

[3] They would probably just find another larger fine to compare it to while pointing and screaming like children.

[4] Not banning FSS teams entirely, as Henry Winter proposes, something that will only isolate the Serbs further and will serve only to make the current situation worse.

[5] With the added bonus feature that this would take in both of Serbia’s fixtures with Croatia which would be a serious money spinner for the Serbian FA and a massive headache for UEFA. If hitting the FSS in the pocket is really necessary then preventing them from selling tickets for these games will be more than enough.

[6] Whatever you think of the ‘Kick it Out’ and similar campaigns, their existence means the problem has at least been acknowledged and efforts of some sort are being made to rectify the situation, in direct contrast to the statement the FSS brought out in the aftermath of the events in Krusevac in October

[7] From the first significant wave of black players playing in England in the late 1970s, we still have not reached a point where black people are statistically equally represented in the dugout or in the directors box. We have yet to see the first significant wave of players of British-Asian origin. 50 years is a conservative estimate.