Friday, October 19, 2012

Time for UEFA to act strongly on Serbia

After a hard-fought win against Collingwood in 1993, Australian footballer Nicky Winmar turned to the crowd at Victoria park, raised his jersey and pointed at his chest.

Winmar is an indigenous Australian. He had spent the entire 120 minutes of the match being racially abused by the pro-Collingwood crowd. The moment was captured on film by a photographer from the Age newspaper and went the 1993 version of viral: alongside Sir Donald Bradman's final Test dismissal and John Landy helping Ron Clarke, it's perhaps the most famous photograph in Australian sporting history.

It became a cultural landmark, a very visible sign that what black men in AFL had endured to that time was unacceptable. Since then, Australian football has been prominent in the fight against racism in sport. Though it's not been fully eliminated, there's been several high-profile cases which have helped the public consciousness decide that racial abuse should have no place in sport, let alone life.

Danny Rose didn't ask to be abused when he stepped onto the pitch for England's under-21s against Serbia on Monday. He wanted to play football, to win and to play well. Any psychologist will tell you: no matter what the situation, noone ever asks for, nor deserves, abuse based upon the colour of their skin, their sexual preference or religious beliefs. Fabricating allegations of abuse of this kind does happen, but is extremely rare.

Which is why, due to the past history of Serbian fans, UEFA has to take severe action. This has to stop – it's just not OK. With fines seemingly ineffective, this leaves only two options should an investigation prove that Rose was indeed abused (as seems likely): all Serbian home matches should be played either behind closed doors or away from home; or, more simply, Serbia should be banned from International competition.

Erudite journalist Jonathan Wilson suggests a ban might be counterproductive to Serbian football. However the method of transmission, a strong message needs to be delivered: by refusing to acknowledge the wrongdoing – let alone sanction – hardline Ultras, the FFS appears at best recalcitrant and at worst recidivist. UEFA and FIFA can't afford to compromise on this issue.

In the misty realm where international sport and law meet, there really are only a few options to combat societal problems: fines, suspensions and outright boycotts. The first has been tried with only minimal success, meaning that more dramatic steps are required. It's time for the second – or perhaps third – option, no matter what effects it has on future of football in Serbia.   

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