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European football wrestles with racism

Paris (AFP) – The interruption of the Dijon-Amiens Ligue 1 match on Friday after visiting captain Prince Gouano was the target of monkey chants adds to a string of recent racist incidents across Europe.

It comes after rising Italy star Moise Kean was targeted by racist abuse in Cagliari in Serie A earlier in the month.

Monkey chants were aimed at England players during a Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro and there have been a series of episodes involving London clubs.

“Racism exists in the stadiums in France, but we cannot put the situation on the same level as in Eastern European countries or Italy,” football sociologist Nicolas Hourcade, a professor at the Central School of Lyon, told AFP. 

The goalless draw in Dijon was halted in the 78th minute as players from both sides stopped playing and headed towards the touchline after Gouano said he heard insults.

“It’s over,” Gouano said. “We’re not playing on. I’m taking off my team-mates.”

Players, including Gouano went to remonstrate with fans.

Referee Karim Abed also asked the stadium announcer to “get the message across, if it happens again, we stop.”

Following discussions between players, coaches and officials, play then resumed.

“In Dijon, we saw that it was an isolated supporter who could be identified and arrested,” Hourcade said. “In other countries, there are collective demonstrations where a whole section of the ground, or a good part of one, can shout monkey chants or racist slogans.”

After the game, the French league (LFP) said it would investigate and also announced that Dijon had identified the culprit. The club said they intended to press charges.

“These disgusting shouts are contrary to the values conveyed by sport, they insult our Republic, and I welcome the rapid reaction of the LFP: racism will never have a place in France,” responded Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. 

Anti-racism campaigners urge abandoning matches.

“We do not tackle the subject of racism as we should,” former France captain Lilian Thuram told AFP in 2018, after Blaise Matuidi suffered abuse when Juventus played at Cagliari.

“Why didn’t the referee stop the match, why didn’t the white players leave the field?”

“If there is no deal with the problem, it will be the same thing in 20 years,” he said.

Yet the same thing did happen when Juventus played at Cagliari on April 2. Kean, along with Matuidi and Brazilian Alex Sandro, were targeted by monkey noises and jeers throughout the match.

— ‘Openly fascist’ —

Instead of denouncing their fans, Cagliari’s leadership blamed Kean for celebrating his late winner by standing motionless and silent with arms spread in front of the hostile stand.

“Italy is a case apart for two reasons,” Hourcade said. “The historical strength of the extreme right, and the presence of openly fascist fan organisations.”

But in England too, there have been numerous recent incidents at all levels of football.

On Thursday, half a dozen Chelsea fans posted a video on social media in which they sang that Liverpool’s Egyptian star, Mohamed Salah, was a “bomber”. Chelsea identified and barred three of the fans.

Arsenal are attempting to identify a fan who was caught on video shouting racist abuse at Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli in a Europa League game on Thursday.

In December, Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling was the target of insults at Chelsea and a Tottenham fan threw a banana in the direction of Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

One of the major issues  is “to identify the perpetrators of these acts to punish them,” said Hourcade.

Spurs’ England defender Danny Rose has blasted the game’s rulers for failing to rein in racism, calling their efforts “a farce”.

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