Friday, November 26, 2004

LONDON - Incidents in which black players have been targeted for abuse have stirred outrage and again raised the specter of racism, never far beneath the surface, in the world of European soccer.

On Nov. 17 in Madrid, Spanish fans jeered and taunted three black players with monkey-like “Ooh, ooh” grunts and arm gestures during a match between Spain and England.

“If you are not a [expletive] black, jump up and down,” large groups of fans at Bernabeu stadium chanted.

The torrent of abuse rained down every time any of the three players [-] Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Shaun Wright-Phillips [-] touched the ball during the so-called “friendly” match that Spain won 1-0.

Four days later and about 300 miles away at Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium, fans hurled insults at another black player, Roberto Carlos of Real Madrid.

Across the channel in England, memories of days in the 1970s and ‘80s when the nation’s stadiums were hotbeds of racism were recalled on Sunday during a game between Birmingham City and Blackburn.

The target this time was Dwight Yorke, a black player who is the star of Birmingham City. Yorke was tormented by a handful of Blackburn fans, who made the same sort of monkey noises aimed at England’s black players in Madrid.

“Everybody is sickened,” said Birmingham manager Steve Bruce. “This is the last thing we wanted to happen after what went on with the England players in Madrid. Apparently, it is monkey taunts, and that is sick.”

A fan this week pleaded guilty in a Blackburn court to a charge of racially aggravated disorderly behavior. He was fined and banned from attending soccer matches in England and Wales until 2009.

International soccer’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), last Friday said it will investigate the incident in Madrid and condemned what it said was an increase in racial incidents.

Jim Boyce, the president of the Irish Football Association and a respected member of FIFA’s disciplinary committee, gave a bleak assessment of the situation.

“Racism is returning all over Europe,” Mr. Boyce said. “This is not only about the Spanish. It’s happening in other parts of Europe, and it has to stop.”

Darren Bent, another of England’s black stars, plays for the country’s Under-21 side. He said racism is threatening to become more widespread.

“When you go to countries like Lithuania and Estonia, where there are not many black players, you get such abuse,” he said.

That abuse hasn’t always come from fans.

The coach of Spain’s national team last month called Thierry Henry, a star with London’s Arsenal club, a “black [expletive]” before his team’s match with England in Madrid.

The coach, Luis Aragones, said after the incident, “My conscience is clear.” He is scheduled to appear soon before Spain’s anti-violence commission.

“I am not saying Aragones is to be blamed for several thousand uncivilized people screaming insults at black English players,” said Eduardo Torrico, assistant editor at the Madrid daily sports newspaper As. “But to a certain extent, his attitude provoked this sad exhibition of racism.”

Although muted in recent years, racism has continued to lurk in European soccer.

Two years ago, for instance, English league team Liverpool complained that one of its black stars, Emile Heskey, had been abused during a match in Spain against Valencia.

Another English league club, Ipswich Town, reported racist chanting in a game it played in Serbia against FK Sartid, as did England side Blackburn Rovers in Bulgaria against CSKA Sofia and London club Fulham in a match in Croatia against Hajduk Split.

Other such incidents were reported during the past four years in Albania, Macedonia and Slovakia, and only last year, England’s own Football Association was fined $126,000 for its fans’ racist chanting during a game against Turkey in Sunderland, England.

In the 1990s, abuse of black and ethnic minorities struck many European countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

How to deal with what evidently is a resurgence in racism has put European soccer chiefs and critics alike in a quandary. FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, suggested he would have supported the England team had it walked off the field at the Bernabeu in protest.

Some counter that soccer fans who find their club on the losing side might launch tirades of abuse simply to get the match abandoned.

Fining clubs or a country’s soccer association whose fans misbehave also has been proposed.

Mr. Boyce said those punishments likely won’t be effective.

“Fans who make these kinds of monkey chants don’t [care] about fines,” he said.

Associated Press

[Leadin]Shameful:[EndL] Jason Perryman, a soccer fan, was fined after pleading guilty to racially abusing black Birmingham City star Dwight Yorke.

Getty Images

English soccer player Ashley Cole, arguing with Luis Aragones at a Spain-England match Nov. 17, was one of three blacks racially abused during the game. Aragones, coach of the Spanish team, is under fire for racial comments he made last month.

Getty Images

Black English soccer players, including Ashley Cole, were jeered and taunted with racially charged language at the international friendly match this month, an event amid a wave of racism re-emerging in the world of European soccer.

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