Monday, June 7, 2010

Could Countries With A Tradition of Racist Fans Underperform in South Africa?

It's been well-documented how extensive racism is in European soccer - with catcalls and "monkey chats" often directed at black players by fans. None of that is expected in South Africa to be sure. But it all raises an intriguing question: Could countries known for having trouble dealing with racism in soccer - most notably Spain, Italy, Slovakia, and Serbia - be more intimidated by playing in Africa and suffer as a result? It's not an outlandish conclusion.

Though Americans aren't exposed to it, racism sadly permeates world soccer. The black players on England's national teams have faced abuse in Croatia and Spain; Lazio's fans in Rome have been known to greet black players with "ooh, ooh" monkey chants whenever they touched the ball. This past year, Inter Milan's Mario Balotelli, born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents, has been greeted by opposing fans with the chant, "A Negro cannot be an Italian." In Russia, fans have turned on their own black players, shouting at them, "Russia for Russians" and throwing bananas on the field.

The reasons are complex why soccer stadiums can become Europe's "theaters of hatred," as one writer put it. Soccer crowds across Europe -- at least in the cheaper seats -- seem to include a disproportionate number of the supporters of the right-wing political parties that have sprung up across the continent.

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