Coventry City midfielder Kasey Palmer experienced racial abuse from some Sheffield Wednesday fans during a match. Palmer, an English-born Jamaica international, expressed both shock and resignation in response to the monkey chants directed at him.
In a social media post after the game, he stated, “I’m black and proud, and I am raising my three kids to be the exact same. I’ll be honest, though, it feels like things will never change, no matter how hard we try.”
Unfortunately, he’s right. Shortly after the distressing incident in Sheffield, AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan faced similar deplorable treatment from Udinese fans. This highlights the ongoing issue of racial abuse in football, which continues to persist due to insufficient measures being taken to address it.
Despite numerous signs and slogans, meaningful action within the game remains scarce. Stadium closures are often partial or too brief, sentences are frequently suspended, and fines are consistently trivial. Consequently, there is no genuine deterrent for those who engage in racist behavior.
Maignan emphasized the need for change, stating, “This [behavior] shouldn’t exist in the world of football, but unfortunately for many years, this is a recurrence. We all have to react. We must do something because you can’t play like this.”
For far too long, players of color were expected to endure such abuse silently, with the misguided belief that responding to racists would only give them satisfaction. This approach, as pointed out by Arsenal legend Ian Wright, proved ineffective.
Remember the cases of Moise Kean and Romelu Lukaku, who faced vilification for their silent acts of defiance. Kean was accused by his own teammate, Leonardo Bonucci, of provoking racial abuse from Cagliari fans, while Lukaku received a second yellow card for standing up to Juventus supporters.
“Can someone make it make sense, please?” questioned Common Goal after Lukaku’s red card in Turin. Calls for real punishments for racism in football have gone unheeded for too long.
It is evident that more needs to be done to combat racism in the sport, with incidents such as attacks against Vinicius Jr. highlighting the work that still remains. The responsibility should not solely rest on those subjected to racial abuse to end it; the entire football community, including clubs, federations, and fans, must take the issue seriously.
The argument that punishing the majority of fans for the actions of a minority is unjust has been put forth, particularly by club presidents and chairmen. However, Maignan challenged this argument, stating, “The spectators who were in the stands, who saw everything, who heard everything but who chose to remain silent, you are complicit.”
Taking a stand against racism is undoubtedly challenging, especially when faced with intimidating and ignorant individuals. Kick It Out rightly contends that “it cannot be on the players to solve this. We wish it were not the case, but they are already showing courage under extreme distress and emotional trauma.”
The primary responsibility lies with the authorities, but there is also an obligation on fans to speak out when they witness one of their own racially abusing a player. The most effective way to incentivize self-policing among supporters is not just to stop games but to immediately award victory to the victim’s team.
Encouragingly, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has acknowledged the gravity of the situation. “The events that took place in Udine and Sheffield are totally abhorrent and completely unacceptable,” he declared.
Infantino has proposed implementing an automatic forfeit for the team whose fans commit racism and cause a match to be abandoned, along with worldwide stadium bans and criminal charges for the perpetrators. However, it is imperative that Infantino follows through on his threat. As Kylian Mbappe, teammate of Maignan, stated, “Enough is enough.” The time for talk has passed; action is now essential. Otherwise, meaningful change will remain elusive.