Raheem Sterling is right: Football is not doing enough to stop racism in stadiums. Deducting points and games behind closed doors are tough, but necessary measures to stop racist discrimination writes DW's Joscha Weber.
The venue: Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg, March 20, 2019. During a match between Germany and Serbia, eyewitnesses observe drunken fans in the stands screaming racist insults at players on the pitch. Their target is Germany's star winger, Lero Sane. They use words like "n*****" and "bimbo." The same fans then declare that what Germany really needs is "a little Austrian." Journalist Andre Voigt details the shocking scenes on social media and shares his information with the police. Yet according to Voigt, the racist episode was not the most shocking part.
"Nobody in the stadium spoke out against these men," Voigt said in an interview with German media outlet Welt.
This was just one of a number of football- related racist incidents in 2019, and we're still only in April! Again and again, footballers have been discriminated against because of their skin color, ethnicity or simply because of their name. The culprits do so loudly and their voices brim with hate. The football world routinely reacts with shock and horror, and condemnation. But then what? The next racist incident comes along and the pantomime repeats itself. But nothing changes.
Discrimination hurts everyone
No wonder Raheem Sterling is at his wits' end. The Jamaican-born Brit has repeatedly had to put up with racist chants and insults not just while playing for Manchester City but also while representing England. This has included a European qualifier in Montenegro, where Sterling mocked the fans who had been racially abusing him by cupping his ears after scoring England's fifth goal. Now Sterling is suggesting clubs whose supporters are racially abusive, be punished with an automatic point deduction and three games behind closed doors. This would, admittedly collectively punish large fan bases for the actions of a few, but it's an idea that deserves serious consideration.
Football's battle against racism is running out of options. Europe-wide campaigns, ad-campaigns featuring football stars and anti-racism work at the grassroots level have raised awareness of the issue, yet the problem persists. Racists continue to use football stadiums as public spaces to pursue their agitation. Worse still, too many fans tolerate this behavior, just as Andre Voigt found out in Wolfsburg.
Deducting points, however, may turn the tide. This is because those who hurl racist abuse from the stands as well as bystanders would realize that these actions could have serious consequences; the fortunes of their beloved football club could be directly affected. The threat of having to play home games behind closed doors should make it blatantly obvious that discrimination affects everybody badly.
Racism cannot be kicked out by looking the other way
Hitting them where it hurts: Raheem Sterling cups his ears towards racist fans during England's game against Montenegro after slotting home another goal.
Sterling's idea is radical, but it would send a strong message. Racism in the stands will not be defeated by ignoring it. It requires sanctions that are serious enough to get people's attention. His idea would also hold clubs more accountable. It would be in their own interest to do everything they can to keep problem "fans” out of their stadiums. Being relegated or missing out on qualifying for Europe places due to docked points, will not be seen as risks worth taking. The pressure to stamp out racism would increase drastically in the clubs' front office and among the supporters, but that's not the end of it.
Corporate sponsors would take an even closer look at a club when deciding on where to invest their millions.
Ultimately, Sterling is right when he says: "I don't know how long it will take for things to change but we have to start now."