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SC Bastia Deserve To Be Relegated After Fans’ Racial Abuse Of Mario Balotelli

Sending a strong message to clubs with large sections of support that engage in despicable, racially motivated attacks is the only way forward.

Following a blatant attack of racial abuse on Mario Balotelli during Nice’s match against Bastia last Friday, the Italian striker took to Instagram and said, “Is it normal that Bastia supporters make monkey noise [and] ‘uh uh’ for the whole game…?” Balotelli then criticized the French League’s disciplinary committee for failing to address the situation, summarizing the entire incident as “a real shame.”

Since Balotelli’s original statement, teammates Alessandro Plea and Wylan Cyprien have publicly corroborated Balotelli’s claim. Match broadcaster BeIN Sports released a video of the abuse as well, clearly implicating a section of the Bastia crowd.

There is absolutely no doubt that fans of the Corsican side hurled racist abuse at Mario Balotelli en masse. So why has nothing been done? Because FIFA and its European subsidiary, UEFA, simply do not care.

The worst part is, the above statement is barely inflammatory. The organization does not pretend to be concerned about racist behavior enough to even warrant a counter-argument.

In 2014, then UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino stated that "The fight against racism is a process which we started some time ago, and which the UEFA President, the UEFA Executive Committee and the Congress have embraced with their full weight…We have had the total support of football players, coaches, presidents, referees. Everyone is fully behind it.”

In just under two years, FIFA’s rhetoric has changed completely. In late September of 2016, the organization disbanded its anti-racism task force, labeling its mission “completely fulfilled”. The aforementioned Infantino, now President of FIFA, has made no attempt to resurrect it. FIFA 1 - Racism 0, right?

These are what are now popularly referred to as ‘alternative facts’.

In reality, racist behavior across European football has risen sharply in the past few years. In Russia, the site of the 2018 World Cup, sociological think-tank Sova Centre reported 92 incidents of racist fan behavior in 2015, more than the prior two seasons combined.

 

Realistically, these records are only the tip of the iceberg in a country where the head of fan behavior responded to reports of bananas thrown at Roberto Carlos by saying, “Bananas are a nutritious fruit and a yellow fruit, which always makes you happy.” Even in progressive countries such as England, the anti-racism group Kick It Out reported 393 reports of racist behavior in 2015, up from 77 just two years before.

So why does FIFA continue to pretend this problem does not exist?

It’s a question with no real answer. On the rare occasion that FIFA or its subsidiaries step in, the resulting punishment tends to be less than a proverbial slap on the wrist. In a U-21 match between England and Serbia in 2012, future England senior internationals Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling were harassed with bananas, monkey chants and flying coins by the home fans, resulting in an on-field brawl. 

In response, UEFA issued retroactive bans to the English players Tom Ince and Steven Caulker for responding to the abuse. Serbia was only fined €65k, less than most of their players make in a week. Even that penalty was, historically speaking, on the high end. 

More recently, Atletico Madrid was only fined €11k for racist abuse against Manchester City. In comparison, UEFA charged the Swedish side Malmö FF €110k for a substandard pitch during Champions League matches.

FIFA’s mission statement is to “build a better future through the power of the game.” By prioritizing a Swedish field over the humanity of its own players, the organization shows a fundamental absence of responsibility in building a better future.

Unfortunately, FIFA’s lack of humanity is not really a new issue.

 

But what’s transpired in France is an opportunity to finally get things right. By the power vested in the French League and UEFA, Bastia should be faced with a significant point deduction, if not automatic relegation, an idea originally backed by former president Sepp Blatter.

Yes, it would be unfortunate for Bastia players, but the club itself is not a victim. This was not their first offense. In 2007, fans racially abused the Libourne St Serin player Boubacar Djeidy Kébé during a Ligue 2 game. In 2008, they did it again, this time unfurling a racist banner towards the same player. Last week’s abuse was not an isolated incident perpetrated by a tiny minority. For at least the third time in ten years, it was a portion of the crowd making a concerted effort to tell a black man that he was not human.

That’s not banter. In a country moving towards Jean-Marie le Pen and right-wing nationalism, it is frightening.

More importantly, significantly docking league points would send a message to the rest of the world that racist behavior in stadiums will no longer be tolerated. For the past decade, the Italian club Lazio has been at least semi-annually sanctioned by UEFA for racist taunting. The sanctions operate in the same cycle. The club complains that it is being unfairly targeted, it pays a minuscule fine and, a few months later, Lazio fans are again found guilty of the same crime.

Until the punishment is severe enough to warrant significant harm to a club, FIFA and UEFA give every racist supporter the license to continue their behavior with no consequences.

 

Five African teams will represent the continent at the FIFA World Cup in Russia come 2018. Judging Russian fans by their recent actions, it would not be a stretch to imagine this same scenario being played out, this time in front of the World Cup’s 3.2 billion viewers.

FIFA and UEFA are never going to be recognized as a bastions of social progress, and that’s fine, that’s not their obligation. But as self-titled guardians of the world’s most popular sport, they at least have the responsibility to protect the game and its players. 

The racist chanting towards Mario Balotelli not only took away from Friday’s match, but it attempted to take away the humanity of the Italian striker. And for that reason, UEFA and the French League should have no qualms in taking away Bastia’s privilege to compete in the top division.

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