The torrent of racial abuse at Spanish matches is the product of a society that is in flux and is also uneasy with immigration. But don’t be complacent, warns Martin Jacques. This is an enemy that English football has yet to defeat
Getafe is a small industrial satellite town on the southern edge of Madrid. Its football ground is modest in the extreme, all-seated but covered on just one side, with a capacity of a mere 13,000. The ground is lined on two sides by soulless, multi-lane roads, on another by a building site and on the fourth by five-storey public housing. Getafe hardly seems the appropriate place to take the temperature of Spanish football. But on a Sunday evening in March, the club, lingering in the lower reaches of the Primera Liga, played Real Madrid . It may only be 15 kilometres from the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Real’s temple to football in central Madrid, to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, Getafe’s humble home on its outskirts, but the clubs occupy two entirely different worlds.
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Soccer has become the fault-line for European racist prejudices
One expects the great issues of Europe to be played out in Brussels, or perhaps Strasbourg, or the national capitals, possibly even on the streets, but certainly not in the football stadiums. Yet, that is what is happening on race. You would barely know it. Football is not accorded that kind of significance in national life: it’s just a game. Political commentators do not fulminate about it, editors think in terms of the back pages and politicians largely ignore it. But that is not a reflection of the true reality, just their myopia, and the blinkered way in which we tend to perceive politics.
The most striking incident – when racism in football became headline news – was in November at Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium when tens of thousands of Spanish supporters made monkey noises at England’s black players. This followed an extraordinary outburst by the Spanish manager, Luis Aragones, who had referred to Thierry Henry, one of the most sublime talents in the game, as “that black shit”. The under-21 match between the two countries the night before had also been scarred by racist chanting.
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Football has conquered the world. Some of the brightest stars in Portugal this summer will have been born in Africa and Latin America, and top European clubs increasingly sign players from every continent. Martin Jacques talks to players, fans, businessmen and the head of Fifa to discover how globalisation is changing football – for better and worse – and why international competitions may yet save the game from rampant greed
The European Championship was once a lily-white occasion. No longer. The teams of the former great imperial powers, such as England, France and Holland, are today kaleidoscopes of colour, mirrors image of the people who populate their great urban centres. Their sides are ethnically diverse – breathtakingly so in the case of France – a tribute to Africa and the Caribbean as much as Europe itself. When England play France on 13 June, up to half the players on the pitch will be black or brown. The tournament may be called the European Championship, but it is also, at the same time, a global occasion, invigorated and inspired by the rhythms and athleticism of other continents.
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