Sunday, January 10, 2016

A modest proposal to eradicate racism from sports stadiums

A sequence of three games between local rivals FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol (the last of the sequence has still to take place) has triggered a variety of episodes related to violence and tribalism, to which soccer players and club officials have openly contributed. One of these episodes was fans yelling monkey noises at Neymar, the Brazilian Barça star. Neymar's team mate Gerard Piqué was quick to ask for the authorities sanctioning the fans who did that, and Espanyol club officials replied that Piqué was exagerating. As a Barça fan, some years ago I visited Barça's stadium with a French friend of mine on occasion of a game between Barcelona and Real Madrid (a "clásico"). In that game, I was very embarrassed to listen to many Barça fans yelling monkey noises to Roberto Carlos, then a Brazilian R. Madrid player. I did not know what to say to my friend. Since racism is one of the dark sides of soccer/football, and one that apparently seems difficult to eradicate, proposals to fight it should take into account the risk of hypocrisy, that is, denouncing it only when it is practiced by the rivals. I have a proposal that addresses this "blind spot:" players' associations in each country and at the international level should reach an ex-ante agreement by which local team captains will ask their team mates to abandon the pitch when they hear monkey noises against any rival team's player. Of course, the problem of the "blind spot" goes beyond racism and sports, but it is very frequent in any controversy where tribalism is involved. Some sports journalists are aware of the problem, but others (typically those that are members of some tribe) much less. For example, I have in front of me a page of a local sports newspaper I came across randomly two days ago. In it, a journalist of the public Catalan television, Xavi Torres, writes an article where he starts lecturing about "the general stupidity that invades society", referring to the danger of the Barça-Espanyol sequence contributing to it. The rest of the article is about how ethical education could contribute to reducing tensions between soccer fans and players. Surprisingly, at the end of it (an article in a local sports newspaper) the sports journalist, in a final paragraph unrelated to sports but related to the crisis of the Catalan independence movement, which he must find compatible with fighting general stupidity, he writes: (Catalan) "independence deserves any efforts that are required. No step back. We are in a hurry," The blind spot is thus a general phenomenon. I know that my proposal to eradicate racism in soccer and sports stadiums will not have much of an impact, but just in case I'll send it to one of my favourite sports journalists, and I'll discuss it with my (luckily, foreign) students in the new edition of my course on the economics of soccer that will start in little more than one week in Barcelona.

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