The pitch is set. The players are ready. And fans in South Florida and around the world are tuning their TV sets for Sunday’s English Cup soccer championship.
Enthusiastic fans will be in the stands during the game at Wembley Stadium in London, too. But the behavior of some fans, which has gone well beyond mere hooliganism in recent months, has some in Europe wondering whether it’s best to padlock the gates and keep them away from the game.
The stench of racism has again emerged in European soccer, from racial taunts of black players to displays of anti-Semitism.
The teams playing on Sunday — Bradford and Swansea — have not been implicated in these embarrassing episodes. Still, the incidents have caused soccer officials to scramble to regain control of the game. It’s imperative that they do so and prosecute abusers.
Consider that just last month, A.C. Milan abruptly ended play after fans taunting Ghanian-German midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng threw a banana on the field. Boateng responded by kicking a ball to where fans were howling like monkeys. He then left the game, followed by his teammates.
It was the latest racist episode in Italian soccer, which has recorded dozens of cases this season. The fans don’t stop at just taunting. Fans in Eastern Europe, according to a recent BBC documentary, displayed the Nazi salute and chants of, “Sieg heil.”[Hail victory!]
The situation has gotten so toxic that the Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report last year listing anti-Semitic abuse at soccer matches among its Top 10 anti-Semitic slurs of 2012.
The center said that although the slurs have been a problem in Eastern Europe for some time, it has been revived in Western Europe. And it singled out fans at a match between Tottenham Hotspur, which is based in a traditionally Jewish section of London, and a rival team. Some fans chanted “Adolf Hitler’s coming for you” and “you’re getting gassed in the morning” and made hissing noises to simulate a gas chamber.
This trend in European soccer is very troubling. The British government has vowed to take action against racist elements in soccer’s fan base. It should do so quickly.
In South Florida, Sun Life Stadium officials have said the proposed renovations would make the facility more attractive to soccer matches from Europe and elsewhere. Previous matches there, including one in July between A.C. Milan and Britain’s Chelsea, have been free of the taunts that are becoming all to common in Europe. Maybe European soccer fans can learn from South Florida.
That’s the hope for Wembley on Sunday, and into the future.