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What can soccer learn from the NBA’s stance on racism?

Apr 30, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT


When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life from the league on Tuesday, and fined him $2.5 million, the entire sporting world sat up and took notice.

Acts of racism are now being treated with the severity they deserve. At least in one sport.

Soccer’s governing bodies, specifically UEFA and FIFA, please stand up and take notice of the NBA’s zero tolerance approach towards racism.

The big difference here is that, of course, none of the owners of soccer have acted in the way Sterling has. Plenty of soccer fans have though. Yet the fact that so many different governing bodies hold power across the sport means that FIFA doesn’t have the kind of power the NBA does. Plus the issue we are talking about here is trying to eradicate the beliefs of a large number of people across the globe, not one NBA owner.

That said, the heavy sanctions the NBA have placed against Sterling needs to be replicated by FIFA.

In the last 10 years alleged and proven racist abuse has come from fans of Zenit St. Petersburg, the Spanish national team, Juventus, CSKA Moscow and many others. Those are just some of the high profile cases. Sadly, the list goes on and on and many of the teams involved are from similar regions and in some cases the same clubs continue to be involved.

(WATCH: Dani Alves’ perfectly-dismissive reaction to racist banana toss)

Soccer’s problems with racism seem to be more widespread and deep-rooted than in the NBA, as we could rattle off a whole list of deplorable acts of racism from clubs across the planet. Although Europe, time and again, seems to be the hub of racist abuse towards players.

Earlier this week in Spain, Barcelona’s Brazilian defender Dani Alves was taking a corner kick away at Villareal’s El Madrigal Stadium. As he lined up to whip the corner in, a banana was thrown on the pitch which landed right next to Alves. To try and diffuse the situation, Alves picked the banana up and ate it. It has been revealed that Barcelona’s Brazilian teammates Alves and Neymar have been planning this reaction for a while after yet another racist incident back in March.

Players, managers, owners and governors across the soccer world have since been pictured eating bananas in order to try and ridicule the idiotic fan who has since been banned for life by Villareal and send the message to the world. Racism in soccer must stop. Now.


Earlier this week Barcelona’s Dani Alves had a banana thrown at him during a game in Spain by a racist fan.

In the past the Premier League has been plagued by allegations of racism, with both John Terry and Luis Suarez embroiled in lengthy investigations into apparent racist abuse on the pitch. In recent years England has cleaned up its act, with the ‘kick racism out of football’ campaign helping to almost eradicate it from the game. Yet in the 70s and 80s there was widespread problems with monkey chants, bananas being thrown on the pitch at black players and other awful acts of racist abuse.

Elsewhere in Europe, they’re now going through the issues England had 20-30 years ago. In 2012 Zenit’s fans posted an open letter against black and gay players playing for the club as “the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition.” There are numerous instances of racist abuse among Russian and Eastern European clubs who have been fined, had their entire, or sections of, their stadiums closed and other sanctions placed against them.

Is that enough?

I don’t think so.

My suggestion to stop the sickening racism, and discrimination of any kind for that matter:

  • Hand out instant bans, no fines, and stop teams from competing in domestic and European competitions if their fans are found guilty.

If this comes into action, the fans in question will soon halt their absurd stance of thinking racist abuse is okay if they no longer have a team to support as a consequence. If they don’t, the team is not worth having in the global soccer community. Yes, you can blame other cultural and social issues in certain parts of the world for racist attitudes, but why should behavior that is somehow deemed acceptable outside the soccer stadium suddenly become acceptable inside it? That punishment I outlined is harsh and swift, as many would prefer hefty fans before any ban is put in place. Fines have not been working. The issue continues to plague soccer.

I believe instant bans is the only way racism can truly be removed from the world’s most popular sport. What else can you do?

Hearing directors and owners waffling on about “the right steps being taken” to stop racism has gone on for years and that kind of talk got old a long time ago. Fines do not work and partial stadium closures are not useful. Lengthy bans to teams found to have racist supporters is the only way. That is where the Sterling situation differs from soccer, as that was one influential individual who will now no longer being involved in the game. The soccer authorities have to target billions of fans but there needs to be a charge from the top to stop racism in soccer. Fans of the NBA and other members of the pro basketball community in the USA now know the repercussions for being a racist. The soccer world still doesn’t know how it will be punished, although the only certainty is that the sanctions will be nowhere near as tough as the NBA’s.

Enough is enough, the time has come for soccer’s governing bodies, and its global community of fans, players and administrators, to stand up to the racists with affirmative and swift action.

The NBA has led the way. Can soccer act in a similar stirring and admirable fashion?

  1. talgrath - Apr 30, 2014 at 2:49 PM

    I think it’s a little difficult to compare the well-documented racism of a single public figure with the more general racism present in a group of fans. If you can definitely show that somebody is racist and saying or doing such things in public then absolutely ban them; but the problem is that rather often the racists are mixed in with the innocent. A group of “fans” (quotation marks because I don’t consider them to actually be fans of soccer) throw bananas on the pitch, how do you pick out which one did it? Cameras usually aren’t focused on the fans when say, a corner kick is being done. How do you determine who is doing the racist shouting and who isn’t in a stadium?

    • dws110 - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:39 PM

      Most sadia have closed circuit cameras on the crowd. The teams have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the stands.

      • talgrath - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:48 PM

        Are they sharp enough to focus on individual faces though? Provide conclusive proof that an individual attendee is responsible? Certainly they can show that a group of fans are unruly (and actions can be taken against the group), but showing that one particular individual did something? Very difficult. Especially if it is racist chants as opposed to obvious physical things like throwing bananas.

  2. twerkslikeMiley - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    Soccer will NEVER do anything about racism. That is pretty clear by now.

  3. geojock - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    The more you are offended and the more you ban, the more POWER you give the words and the symbols. Alves was BRILLIANT in his actions.

    I am torn by the NBAs actions. I am in some disagreement if they are just based on the recording, but hearing about historic allegations against the man, my question is: Why wasnt he banned a long time ago?

    Actions always speak louder than words, so why is it that now we are more likely to take action against words than against action?

  4. chunkala - Apr 30, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    They can arbitrarily take a team away from an owner if they disagree with something he says like the NBA.

  5. nicofthenorthstar - Apr 30, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    Yep. JayZ, who is as much a face of the NBA as anybody who isn’t a player or coach, and Caramello wear medallions (that make olympic medals look subtle) advertising what is basically the black KKK to NBA games/on camera and do not get called on it. Players use one particular word (hint: starts with the letter N) more than any other word except, maybe, ball. And yet the NBA is the shining beacon for race relations progress and healing. Yep.

  6. reformed2012 - Apr 30, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    What it works in America does not apply to the rest of the world. In some countries, cultural pride and nationalism trumps political correctness.

    • cgerstl - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:05 PM

      Bigotry is bigotry, no matter if it is culturally acceptable or not. Civilized and educated people need to work towards eliminating those barbaric mindsets so as to move our species towards a better future, not simply shy away from tough action because it’s unpopular.

      • reformed2012 - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:58 PM

        Yes, I totally agree. But the same group of people who condemn racism and so called”barbaric mindsets” refuse to condemn Islam. At the end it is all about politics, oil and money.

  7. Kevin S. - Apr 30, 2014 at 5:47 PM

    The NBA did not ban Donald Sterling because of some kind of zero-tolerance policy against racism. They banned him because he was costing them a lot of money, and would have cost them a heck of a lot more once the players refused to play (which they were going to do if the NBA gave him a slap on the wrist).

  8. seanb20124 - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    The Dani Alves banana incident was staged. Look it up

    • brazcubas - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:55 PM


      The incident was not staged. As was alluded to in the post, Alves and Neymar had a response and anti-racism campaign ready for the next time one of them met with racist abuse on the pitch.

      That they felt the need to do this is indicative of how pervasive racism is among European soccer fans.

  9. dumbassgreg - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:19 PM

    seriously Russia is the worst guess who is getting world cup. Italy please Mario balotelli acts like most other Italian players but it a crime when he does it. spain as racist a country as there is on planet. a few years ago they caught their national team coach saying racist things about henry of france. they did nothing.. at least countries like England and Germany are trying to improve.

  10. itsfutbol - May 1, 2014 at 5:03 AM

    FIFA stance are harsher then the NBA, FIFA has either told these futbol clubs to shut down a portion of the stadium or basically play behind closed doors. I doubt the NBA would want to tell 2 teams playing in playoffs to play behind closed doors. Money prevails over morals issues.

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