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Talk to us about discrimination in sports
Submitted by Manos Moschopoulos on 9 December 2012
Young people from across Europe recorded their thoughts on discrimination in sports and posted them online as part of the Debate@Europe programme. As scandals involving racist abuse by footballers and fans become more frequent and homophobia is still rampant in football, what do you think can be done to make sure that everyone can enjoy football without being discriminated against on the basis of their colour, origin or sexual orientation?
We have prepared a brief backgrounder to introduce you to the subject. Your speeches will be judged by an international panel of adjudicators put together by the Debate@Europe partners IDEA, ARDOR, the Estonian Debate Society, the Slovak Debate Association and the Youth Educational Forum.
Racist abuse from fellow sportspeople
On October 20, former England Football captain John Terry was fined £220,000 and suspended for four matches by the English Football Association (FA) for racially abusing Queens Park Rangers player Anton Ferdinand.  Yet, despite the fact that he was judged not guilty in July by the Westminster Magistrates’ [Criminal] Court and cleared of all charges,  many believe that Terry was let off lightly by the FA. This case study raises important questions on how to best go about combating racism in sport across Europe.
Although it may seem strange that a player or sportsperson should be punished despite being found not-guilty in court, it is an example of the English FA, and on a wider scale, of UEFA employing their zero-tolerance policy against racism in football. There is a widespread precedent of disciplinary action taken against sportspeople from the part of sporting bodies. Apart from the case of John Terry, Liverpool’s Louis Suarez was fined £40,000 and eight match ban for racially abusing Manchester United player Partice Evra.  However such cases are widespread across Europe and across a variety of sports. The thinking behind this stance is against racism is simple: sports bodies want to send a clear message to those who participate in sport but also to wider society that racism is totally unacceptable behaviour. In cases where it is often one person’s word versus another’s (such as the cases with Suarez and Terry), however, it is difficult if not impossible to know for certainty if someone is culpable of being a racist. Perhaps sporting bodies are willing to take that risk in the interest of attacking racism in general in society – Terry and Suarez are highly public figures after all, and are role models for many. If that is the case however, it seems that critics are correct in saying that the punishments are not harsh enough given that £220,000 is less than two weeks work for Terry.
Racist Abuse from Fans
It may be easy to pin blame and punish specific people in allegations of racial abuse on individual; when a whole crowd or group of fans are accused of racial abuse, however, the answer is not so clear. England’s Under 21s match against Serbia was marred by violence and allegations of racism against parts of the Serbian fans who reportedly made monkey chants when black member of the England team controlled the ball. The Serbian Football Association are so far denying such accusations, but many are calling for Serbia to be banned from the international competition. Although this would be unprecedented football bodies are often punished for the actions of their fans. For example, Lazio was fined €40,000 for racist behaviour by their fans during a Europa League match at Tottenham Hotspur.  Similarly, the Croatian Football Federation was fined €80,000 after fans racially abused Italy’s striker Mario Balotelli.  One might justifiably argue that sport bodies are not morally responsible for the actions of people who support them; it may, however, be the only option available in terms of identifying blame and punishing for such acts of discrimination.
- Is it ethical that athletes are punished by Sports Boards when they have been adjudged innocent by the criminal court?
- Should Terry have been punished more harshly by the English FA? Should he additionally have been removed as captain of Chelsea Football Club?
- Are sporting bodies morally responsible for the actions of their fans?
- Should sports bodies be punished more harshly?
- Does punishing sports bodies help combat racism in sport?
- Should other forms of discrimination such as homophobia be treated in a similar way to racism?