The English Football Association has made great strides in recent years, as has British society in general, to reinvent the national identity, transform from a mono-cultural identity to a multi-cultural one and at the same time fight against primary vectors which arise as a consequence, in this case in the form of racism. The latest play? Cultural lessons for foreign soccer players.
To begin with let us be inclusive here in our terms of denomination and not shut the Americans out by talking about "football" with a round ball, when the word "Soccer" exists in all forms of the English language, the word having arisen from AsSOCiation football, or SOC for short (Soccer). Secondly, to what extent is soccer a flag carrier for society?
There is no doubt that the game of soccer is a great communicator, for it has all the ingredients for a symbolic struggle between "us" and "them" and as we all know, there is no better way to increase the image of "us" than having a stronger "them", and so the show begins with chants, coloured scarves and hats, beer before the game to loosen tongues and a controlled exercise in symbolic aggression (just observe a soccer crowd from behind a camera) as people get the stresses of the past week off their chests and vent their anger waving their fist at a referee, insulting the behaviour of a linesman's mother, or father, or both, questioning the sexuality or sexual performance of a player on the opposing team and as the game wears on, bringing their linguistic level down to the expletive bawled from a wide and wild-eyed modern-day "fan".
Curiously, not so much in the United States of America, where soccer lies very much in fifth place behind Football, baseball, ice hockey and basketball, maybe due to the fact that an attack in all of these sports (or a strike) is a question of seconds, whereas a soccer match can last for an hour and a half without a single goal, without even a shot on goal, many times with the ball out of play for long periods of time, and with players spitting at each other, insulting one another, rolling around on the ground holding their faces when a ball struck their leg and trading insults.
"Do that again and I'll break your f***ing leg!" is not an uncommon phrase to hear, neither is "you f****** c***!" ""bastard" or allegedly, in a recent Premiership case "You f****** black c***!" In the Spanish Premier League, it could as easily be "Hijo de p*ta", "cabrón" or "ratero" or in the Portuguese, "Filho da p*ta!", "cabrão de merda" and so on and so forth.
Shocking? Well, what do people do at soccer matches? Discuss the finer details of Mozart's requiem, talk about literature or argue about whether Andy Warhol's flush art was art per se or just another load of crap?
And here enters the racism card. Is it any more shocking to call someone "black" than to call his mother a whore? I for one would far rather someone called me "pink" or "white" than insult my parents but then again, is the insult really an insult, and is an expletive or a phrase barked out of a soccer field really a racist slur, or indeed "racism"?
While it could be argued that "racism" is an act rather than a phrase, the point is that soccer, in its very nature as a carrier of images, generates enough visibility to become an icon and more importantly, soccer players these days earn enough money to hold them accountable for their actions. You don't go into a workplace and insult the first non-white (whatever that means) person that you see, you don't call your cleaning lady a "whore", any more than you spit at your colleagues, try to break their legs or kick them in the face when they are lying on the ground.
The point is that soccer players, like everyone else, should be subjected to the same laws of common decency as every other "player" in society, whether this be walking down a street, going shopping or going to work in an office. Therefore why has it taken so long for people to begin to address the problem, which has tangible consequences as children mimic the behaviour of their idols?
"Why shouldn't I spit in the street? XXXX does it on the soccer field!"
The way forward is to send a clear message to the players and the fans who pay good money to watch them behave as they do, and to the generations of sports fans growing up, that there are rules, and accountability, wherever and whoever you are.
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