It can be far too easy for people who aren’t directly affected by racism to dismiss it as a thing of the past. Over the last few years, both FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho have both denied the existence of racism in various aspects of football. But, in quick succession, a group of Chelsea fans in Paris and former Italy manager Arrigo Sacchi have provided crystal clear reminders of just how incredibly wrong that notion is at every level.
The widely respected and still influential Sacchi provided one of the most whiplash inducing “I’m not racist, but now I’m saying something super racist” statements when he said this (via the Guardian):
“I’m certainly not racist and my history as a coach demonstrates that … But look at the Viareggio [youth] tournament I would say that there are too many black players. Italy has no dignity, no pride. It should not be possible that our teams should have 15 foreign players in the squad.”
Upon being called out for how clearly racist that comment was, Sacchi doubled down by saying that he can’t be racist since he coached players of different races. He then followed that by bemoaning Italy’s growing diversity, saying, “I just wanted to point out that we are losing our national pride and identity.”
Of course, an old Italian man saying racist things isn’t all that unusual. FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio was given a six-month FIFA ban for his own racist comments about young black players in the Italian game back in November. So these comments get publicly scolded, dismissed as an older generation being unable to adapt to a changing world and brushed aside.
But then we have a group of Chelsea fans packed into a Paris metro train car before the Champions League match against PSG, who not only physically prevent a black man from boarding, but then sing “We’re racist and that’s the way we like it” to ensure that their vile intentions aren’t mistaken (Chelsea have since issued a statement declaring that they will “support any criminal action against those involved”).
In 2011 FIFA president Sepp Blatter denied that racism exists on the pitch despite the separate cases of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Chelsea’s John Terry, who were eventually both punished by the FA for racially abusing opponents. From the BBC:
“There is no racism [on the field], but maybe there is a word or gesture that is not correct,” Blatter told CNN. “The one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands.”
In 2014, Jose Mourinho also denied the existence of racism in football when asked about the lack of black managers in the English game. From the Guardian:
“There is no racism in football. If you are good, you are good. If you are good, you get the job.
“If you are good, you prove that you deserve the job. Football is not stupid to close the doors to top people. If you are top, you are top.”
But if Sacchi had it his way, Italian football would close the doors to black players and, more literally, Chelsea fans did the same to a man who attempted to board a train in a city they were visiting.
Again, it’s easy to scold the offending parties, dismiss them as a backwards minded old man or a small group of terrible people who “aren’t real fans.” This isn’t just a problem for one club, one country, one sport or one culture, though. Hopefully getting slapped in the face with how emboldened these people are will help stop the denials that hinder progress.