Monday, January 10, 2005

Racist Football Bodes Ill for the E.U.

Thierry Henry takes one for Arsenal

It would be unthinkable for the fans at a professional sporting event in the U.S. to engage in mass, coordinated racist chanting against black or minority players on the field of play. Notwithstanding the dynamics of the Detroit basketball brawl, or the drunken fan yelling racial epithets at a football game, the U.S. has moved beyond using the sporting field as the crucible of its racial anxieties.

But not so within the European Football leagues. In November at Madrid's Bernabeu stadium, tens of thousands of fans sang racist epithets at black players, including Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, pictured above. And it wasn’t the first time:

“Mass racist chanting against black players has been a feature of international games in Slovakia, Macedonia and many other countries. Henry was the object of racist chanting in an Arsenal game in Greece. Porto fans engaged in monkey chanting against Chelsea's black players. England fans engaged in mass racist abuse during the Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey. Countless other examples go unreported.

This followed an extraordinary outburst by the Spanish manager, Luis Aragones, who had referred to Thierry Henry, one of the most sublime talents in the game, as "that black shit". The under-21 match between the two countries the night before had also been scarred by racist chanting.”

Thierry has over the years been a consistent target of abuse, and has become the spokesperson in opposition to this ugly practice.

If sport magnifies and reflects the tensions within society, then the political veneer that enshrouds the lofty goals of unity within the European Union masks deeper fissures within its social fabric. And as the Union expands outward and includes countries such as Turkey, these displays of racial hooliganism are likely to increase, fanning the flames of ethnic hatred, even as the bureaucrats and politicians announce constitutions, amendments, treaties, and communiques. And yet the U.S. is routinely described within European circles as a racist, intolerant society. In this case the European’s net is wide open.