The dust has yet to fully settle. It may never disappear completely. The story behind the incident involving Rangers’ Glen Kamara and Ondrej Kudela, where the latter was reportedly racist to the former, is still being written.
Investigations are ongoing, with the Czech Republic international left out of his country’s most recent squad due to safety concerns. Rangers, and the majority of Scottish football, have positioned themselves right at Kamara’s side. Slavia Prague have resolutely denied all allegations made.
Ibrox boss Steven Gerrard made clear his reluctance for his player to become yet another “statistic” in the fight against racism, but he may be left frustrated. Unfortunately, this is a complex case and the simple fact remains that it’s likely noone outside those who heard Kudela on the night will ever know what he said for sure.
The authorities may well find him guilty if the evidence provided is strong enough. On the other hand, this has so far been a classic case of two opposers in an argument sticking to their side of the story. The Scottish population, for the most part, has vouched for Kamara. Their Czech counterparts have done the same for their player – but on top of that, have thrown fuel on the fire by venting undeniably racist comments at Kamara and his teammate Kemar Roofe.
So what should football’s governing bodies do in situations like this?
As mentioned above, situations like these are tough for FIFA and UEFA. They can’t punish a player for being racist if there is no concrete evidence of him being racist, so the problem doesn’t lie in that regard. If Rangers are able to put forward a strong case and produce strong testimony, we can hope Kudela is punished for his actions.
The main issues, in my opinion, lie in the way these authorities go about their punishments. If a player is found guilty of being racist, they can currently be banned for up to ten matches and are allowed to resume their career once that suspension is complete. They are fined an amount of money that usually pales in comparison to their wage intake.
If fans are racist in a stadium (by directing monkey chants at players, for example), then their clubs are fined another relatively small amount of money and given a warning. Real bans are barely ever dished out.
This has to change. If football truly wants to show racism the red card, then harsher measures need to be put in place.
Here is a theoretical way to go about it. It’s worth remembering that I’m far from a total expert on the topic and that there will be flaws in this plan, but it’s the basis for a future that pushes racism further away from the sport.
If a player is found guilty of being racist towards anyone in the game, be it a fellow player, a coach, referee or linesman, then ban them. Not for five games, not for ten. Ban them properly. A one year minimum suspension would probably do the trick; players would be less inclined to use abusive language if they knew it would result in them being kicked from the game for 12 months.
If anyone is annoyed at this proposal, ask them why they don’t believe racists should be punished efficiently. That should put an end to any arguments against it. Players need to be made to face the consequences of their actions; a ten match ban is not a fit and proper way to punish someone for belittling a fellow human being based on their race.
When it comes to fans being racist in stadiums, punishments need to be taken to a much higher level. Fans themselves tend not to be disciplined; instead, their clubs take the brunt of the blame. Stadium bans are occasionally dished out, but they don’t tend to last long.
Let’s actually banish the fans from their stadiums for a prolonged period of time if sections of the crowd are found to be racist more than once. Again, doing this for three games will not bring about widespread and long term change – kick them out for six months. Only then will they learn that their actions will actually result in them being punished themselves.
Another way to go about this could be by banning teams for certain competitions. Take a look at Prague’s fans’ treatment of Kamara and Roofe, for example. A way to properly punish them would be to kick Prague out of European competition for two years, highlighting straightaway that this behaviour within fanbases will not be tolerated.
Straightaway, fellow fans will be on the backs of the racists; they will argue with them, frustrated that the actions of a few have resulted in widespread punishment. The perpetrators will be forced to learn from their mistakes, safe in the knowledge that they have single-handedly tarnished their club’s aspirations and reputations.
Of course, this method does have its limitations. A group of ten vocal racists do not necessarily represent the views of a whole 50,000 people fanbase, but we need to be strict if we want to get rid of racism. There is no time for waning after warning. If people can get away with things, they’ll think they can do so again. For the most part, they can. And so the cycle continues.
Racism will never truly disappear. There will always be a select few individuals that refuse to move forward with their points of view, continuing to practice backwards beliefs no matter how much advice they are given. What we need to do is make sure they become a very exclusive minority.
In football, the way to reach this point is by handing out proper punishments when cases of racism can be identified and proven. We must get rid of this half-hearted approach where offenders are given second chance after second chance; instead, we must make sure they aren’t given that chance. If a player is racist for a second time, ban them from the sport permanently. If a club or its fans refuse to learn from past infractions, remove them from the competitions they take most pride on taking part in (Champions League, Europa League).
Only by fully committing to the tackle can we effectively eradicate racism from football. There are times when it’s good to jockey, good to stay on our feet. This isn’t one of them.