Society

What Football Reveals About The Depth Of European Racism

It's not just England and not just the reaction against the team's loss in the European final. Europe's football culture, and culture in general, reflect deep-seated prejudices that require a real response.

 People kneel in front of a mural of Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford
People kneel in front of a mural of Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford
Parth Pandya

When the final of the Euro 2020 between England and Italy went into the penalties, there was an uncomfortably familiar feeling in the air. Italy had been the slightly better team during the 120 minutes played but there wasn't all that much to choose between the two sides. And the penalties would inevitably lead to one team having to deal with agony and despair despite having come so close to touching the glory.

England arguably were under more pressure in front of a packed Wembley stadium and the weight of the enormous buildup to their entire campaign. Despite the early advantage they gained after Italy's Andrea Belotti failed to convert his kick, England went on to lose the shootout with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missing theirs.

None of the three players had started the final. Two of them had only been introduced as specialist penalty takers. The opinion is fairly divided on whether the England manager Gareth Southgate made the best possible selections for such a high-pressure situation. Three very young members were trusted for the job while leaving out some of the more senior and seasoned ones. However, the moment Saka missed the final kick of the shootout and Italy players broke into their celebrations, anybody even remotely familiar to the political climate in the present-day England would have immediately sensed the greater danger.

Other than being substitute players who missed their change during one of the biggest games of their careers, what unites Rashford, Sancho and Saka is the color of their skin. And it was only a matter of time before the inevitable discourse began. Minutes after the game ended, star England cricketer Jofra Archer sensing the urgency of the matter posted a tweet urging fans to not racially abuse the three players. But much like many of his tweets in the past, Archer's words proved prescient once again.

The players were booed and hooted at by large sections of England fans when they took the knee

The racial abuse reserved for the players was unhinged, but not one bit shocking. In the past, English society was anything but unconditionally united behind their players once they decided to take the knee making a powerful statement against "discrimination, injustice, and inequality." The gesture has strong political connotations and has very effectively been used by athletes highlighting the social malaise of systemic racism. The England team however had to significantly water down the gesture fearing public reactions. Southgate had to assure the press that the players were not promoting any specific political cause on the football field. Having to be defensive of the gesture in itself signaled what was to follow.

The players were booed and hooted at by large sections of England fans when they took the knee and this raucous behavior was practically endorsed by no less than Prime Minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel. It is quite rich that both are now very conveniently condemning the racist abuse of players, but even the most committed of Tory voters will find it hard to believe that their leaders didn't know what was coming.

England went on the have a dream run as the tournament progressed, and this political divide had gone off the headlines briefly as the nation saw a very realistic chance of the team bringing home glory after 55 years. But it doesn't really take much to rally behind your players when they are winning. The moment they faltered, the worst of post-Brexit English society reared its ugly head out.

Speaking to Sky News a day after the final, former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville very eloquently expressed his anger, highlighting how deep the rot runs. Mincing no words whatsoever, Neville went on to hold the very top leadership in the country accountable for almost encouraging the public behavior to stoop to this level. However, despite his impassioned monologue on the issue, one will be hard-pressed to overlook Neville himself helping normalize boorish actions of the English crowd when he said he found nothing wrong in the fans jeering the opposition team's national anthem – specifically of Scotland, Germany and Denmark. (Neville was in good company, with former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan echoing the sentiment.)

Sancho after missing a penalty kick in the Italy v. England game — Photo: Marvin Guengoer / Ges/dpa/ ZUMA Press

There was widespread criticism of such disrespectful conduct and the UEFA was even forced to penalize England's Football Association. Neville, though, preferred to let it pass as something that fans do when charged up. Manager Southgate had himself distanced the team from the audience's conduct. Former greats of English football Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker too had strongly expressed their disapproval. But when public figures with influence in media attempt to pass off such unruly practices in the name of banter, it should then surprise no one to see it culminate into a full-fledged act of hooliganism by fans that saw Italy supporters getting physically attacked.

The racial abuse of players and physical attacks on rival fans aren't completely detached from each other. Both stem from a deep sense of nationalistic entitlement, which breeds ethnic and racial supremacy. This fosters and abets a culture where immigrants are inherently frowned upon or at the very least are expected to be grateful for the largesse they have been offered. In this worldview, it is only reasonable for Rashford, Sancho and Saka to face racial abuse should they fail in their "duty" to England, for England has already done more than its fair share by letting them have a shot to play at the highest level.

Unlike some other places in Europe though, such blatant racism isn't all that mainstream in England yet and reflects how even a Conservative government is at least publicly motivated to condemn the bigotry in strong words. Things aren't quite the same in the backyard of the European champions Italy. Among the least diverse of all major European teams, Italy has had a far greater and far more severe problem of on-field racism. Several players in the Italian Serie A have been targeted with the most distasteful chants by the crowds.

No football culture in Europe is completely immune to racism and discrimination.

Sometimes players even fail to offer unqualified solidarity to their teammates. The star Italian center-back Leonardo Bonucci had resorted to in part blaming his Juventus teammate Moise Kean when the latter got racially abused by the fans of Serie A club Cagliari. The Italian Football Federation is among the most lackadaisical authorities in cracking down on racism and other forms of player abuse by spectators.

No football culture in Europe is completely immune to racism and discrimination. Even a progressive country like Germany had the Mesut Ozil episode in recent years. Ozil, who is of Turkish origin, said that his ethnicity is inevitably highlighted when he fails to meet expected standards. Again, his German teammates were anything but united behind Ozil when he made public his grievances. The French team, heavy on immigrants of African origin, has had to deal with racism too after their star player Kylian Mbappe recently missed a penalty, resulting in France's elimination from the Euro 2020.

This maliciousness that is ever so commonplace in football fandoms is almost rewarded by those who attempt to normalize it in the name of passion. It is almost as if fandoms are somehow not pure enough if they aren't borderline problematic. The behavior of England fans following the team's defeat in the final is due to politics of ethno-nationalism, racial supremacy and toxic masculinity, all of which are tolerated to the point they start seeping into the places where the entire world can see how primal a society can really be when emotionally charged.

It then becomes about protecting a country's international image and empty words condemning the specific acts follow. That sanctimony, though, is of very little consequence if the society continues to refuse looking into the rot that's brewing within. And Johnson and Patel perhaps really need to look into what they are helping flourish and thrive right under their noses. Some introspection certainly won't hurt.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ