Europe, soccer and racism

Racist fans should be considered in Madrid’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.

The sport of soccer is often lauded as an internationalizing force on par with the Olympic Games, bringing people from around the world together in the spirit of friendly competition.

But that spirit was nowhere to be found last week during two separate matches between England and Spain, in which Spanish fans subjected England’s black players to a series of racial taunts that has rightly provoked shock and outrage across the soccer world.

As revolting as those events are, they are no surprise to close observers of European soccer. Something about the sport seems to send fans back down the evolutionary ladder, turning them into the very knuckle-dragging neanderthals you would expect to act this way. Even if racial epithets usually originate from a small band of unruly fans, those few bad apples often inspire the entire stadium to join in.

Whether Spanish fans draw inspiration from Spain’s coach, Luis Aragones, is open to question. Aragones generated controversy last month when he referred to France and Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, of French and African descent, as a “black piece of shit” on camera. That Aragones has so far escaped punishment for those remarks has surely not gone unnoticed by Spanish fans.

These events come at a time when many European nations are adjusting – sometimes awkwardly – to large numbers of African and Muslim immigrants. Spain is home to a growing Moroccan community, members of which have been implicated in the Atocha train bombing of last March. Those connections to terrorism, real or false, might be fueling these episodes of bigotry.

Whatever the source of the racism, the need for action is clear. Federation Internationale de Football Association, world soccer’s governing body, has already announced an investigation into last week’s events and demanded an explanation from the Spanish soccer association.

Those moves are encouraging, but hardly enough. Aragones, Spain’s bigoted coach, should be fired immediately. The International Olympic Committee should reconsider giving Madrid the 2012 Olympic Games. Finally, Europe’s soccer fans should think long and hard about how to live in a multicultural world.