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Opinion: Deducting points won't eliminate racism

Oelmaier Tobias Kommentarbild App
Tobias Oelmaier
April 25, 2019

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling has called for teams to have points deducted for racial abuse perpetrated by their fans. But such draconian measures are not the way to go, writes DW's Tobias Oelmaier.

Fussball l Spieler Raheem Sterling
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Isakovic

In a complex world people tend to crave simple solutions. This is more the case than ever before, in a world in which when hardly anyone takes the time to examine how political developments came to pass – let alone legal ones.  It's much easier to rely on one's mental reflexes: Lose your job, and the "foreigners" are to blame – so it's time to get rid of them! How about the death penalty for child molesters or terrorists? Or solving your country's social or economic problems by leaving the European Union? In this social media age, instant opinions on every subject possible are published within seconds, liked without a second thought – and shared or retweeted.

Read more: Racism and nationalism still ingrained in Balkan football

Now Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling has suggested a simple solution of his own. In a guest column published in the The Times of London, he has called for drastic measures to be imposed on clubs for acts of racism committed by their fans. Since fines don't really hurt the rich clubs or the national football associations, he has suggested the automatic deduction of nine points for such incidents – and three home matches played behind closed doors. Sterling's thinking: What fan would be willing to risk his or her behavior contributing to their club being relegated or losing a title race?

Oelmaier Tobias Kommentarbild App
Tobias Oelmaier

It's tempting to agree with him. Racism just doesn't seem to want to go away, and all of these insults and monkey noises are degrading and shameful. It's almost impossible, as someone who is not affected, to put yourself in Sterling's shoes, as someone who has repeatedly been a victim of racism. But how it feels to repeatedly be the victim of such attacks was probably best expressed by Sterling's England teammate, Danny Rose, after their recent match in Montenegro, when the Tottenham player said that he "can't wait to see the back" of football.

Football thrives on the joy of the game. Racism, this cancer in our societies, threatens it. We cannot, we must not allow things to go on like this!

However, automatic point deductions and forcing teams to play behind closed doors is not the right way to go about it – even if the idea seems logical at first glance. Our legal system simply doesn't provide for collective punishment – not for committing a crime and not for acts of racism in a stadium.  This is a principle that we should not tamper with. To do anything else would amount to a betrayal of our values. That's not to mention any presumably absurd and unenforceable recourse claims by the clubs against the perpetrators among their own supporters. Just think of the millions that a club stands to lose by narrowly failing to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League. 

It may seem banal, but it is important to remember that racism, homophobia and xenophobia are by no means limited to the stands. Football like all sports, simply mirrors society at large. Wherever 50,000 people cavort, racists are bound to be among them. This is not nice, but it is the truth.

The clubs, especially the large and financially strong ones, have been trying hard for years to eradicate this problem. Social workers and educators regularly appeal to reason and common sense in fan projects. And the good new is; they've been doing so with some success.  Attend a match today and you will notice that the atmosphere has indeed changed from decades past, at least in the Bundesliga. Do you really want to sanction 49,995 spectators, the players and an entire club for the misdeeds of five patrons, whom they may not even know?

Nevertheless – there is still racism in German football stadiums, even if it has become rare. There are regional differences – and it often happens in the lower leagues, where it doesn't tend to attract as much media attention. Of course it has to stop. Not by imposing draconian punishments, but by changing mindsets – event if that does take a lot of time. Unfortunately, for Raheem Sterling and his fellow victims, this may well come too late, for as long as people continue to experience racial hatred when using public transportation, in the workplace, and when trying to find an apartment, it will also be present in football stadiums.

Perhaps Sterling's idea would solve the problem in a stadium for the 90 minutes or so it takes to play a match. But what good would that do if the racial abuse continues everywhere else? The place where racism needs to be eradicated is not merely in football stadiums but in hearts and minds!

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