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England’s chant about Rio and Anton Ferdinand – racist or banter?

Mar 29, 2013, 9:03 AM EDT

Manchester United's Ferdinand shakes hands with Queens Park Rangers' Ferdinand after their English Premier League soccer match in Manchester

Question: is the following chant concerning Rio Ferdinand and his brother Anton racist or banter?

‘Build a bonfire, 

Build a bonfire,

Put Rio on the top,

Put Anton in the middle,

Then burn the f****** lot.

The chant – allegedly sung by England supporters during last Friday’s World Cup Qualifier against San Marino – was reported to FIFA by Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), a pan-European entity whose goal is to rid racism from football.

FARE, headed by Piara Powar, was not present at the game to hear the chant because apparently San Marino was not a ‘high risk’ match for racism. But FARE nevertheless chose to file the report based on information from people who were present at the match (in other words, it appears the group’s argument is based entirely on hearsay). The group also reported racist or xenophobic incidents at Croatia v. Serbia and Poland v. Ukraine, matches where members were present.

FIFA will now review the report and decide whether action should be taken against England. If the governing body decides that FARE’s report has merit, England will be punished with the ultimate sanction potentially requiring the Three Lions to play a World Cup qualifier behind closed doors.

Powar explained why his group believes the song to be racist. “It refers to the racist abuse Rio Ferdinand received, along with his brother Anton. We don’t make the judgement. We send a report to FIFA but in the end its their decision whether they open proceedings or not. And whether they issue a fine or not.

“It’s not really the sort of thing we are generally attuned to looking at – fans abusing players of their own country who may not have been picked. Nevertheless if it happens at a game, even if the focus of the abuse isn’t there it’s still happening.

“One of the things we want to underline straight off is that sometimes racism doesn’t only take the form of monkey chants or bananas being thrown. Sometimes there are things that are more subtle at play.

“In the end we are not responsible for making a decision on whether England fans are guilty of racism here but we do have a duty to report things that are said to us because individuals have reported them as racist or xenophobic within the context.”

Rio Ferdinand took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the news. “You expect and accept banter from fans on the terraces as it’s part of what makes the game great, but racism is not banter and from your own fans. WOW.

“Always a small minority who ruin it for others.”

The Manchester United defender was careful, however, to note that the investigation still needs to run its course. “Let’s not jump to conclusions and assume though as it might just have been banter. We’ll see after the investigation.”

England fans took to Sportsmail comment boards to express views that ranged from confusion to outrage. The fans’ primary arguments are that 1) the song has been around a long time and 2) it was only directed at Rio due to his recent behavior. “‘Build a bonfire’ is an old football chant and one used by miners about Thatcher,” said a fan by the name of ‘ghanimah’. “Given Rio’s behaviour it’s no wonder they sung about him but if that’s deemed racist then we should all pack our bags, go home and give up… Absolutely ludicrous.”

‘Tone 827’ echoed these sentiments. “Dont get me wrong its a stupid chant and aimed at causing distress….but is it really racist? Are we getting to the point where just a derogatory remark to someone who is of afro-carribean descent is deemed racism? As a white British man (who is absolutely NOT racist) its starting to grate a bit now…Rio was working for a TV channel covering the game, it was inevitable he was going to get some stick, at least he is being sensible about it and accepting that banter happens, lets not get to the point where nobody can say anything without being accused of racism even if it clearly is not.”

So what do you think? Is the chant – within the context of being directed at Rio and Anton Ferdinand – racist or just banter? Help decide by voting in ProSoccerTalk’s poll and share your views in the Comments below.

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