Nationalism continues to rear its ugly head among soccer fans in Western Europe. While media coverage is extensive of any hint of racism, fascism or right-wing political behavior around matches in Eastern Europe, often times the ugliness in England and Spain is ignored.
Spain and England have become more accommodating to foreigners and those of different races who come to play in those nations, but many fans in those countries continue to be less than tolerant about domestic-based historical conflicts.
The boos and jeers directed toward Gerard Pique this week as Spain took on Slovakia in a critical Euro 2016 qualifier were disappointing but sadly not shocking, from where I sit. Pique has come out and openly supported the idea of Catalan independence from Spain, something which is well within his rights and is reconcilable with his professional experiences as a Barcelona player.
The idea of Catalan sovereignty has long been tied into the ethos of FC Barcelona from the years when Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco suppressed all other expressions of nationalism from Catalonia. Pique has publicly expressed the sentiment of many other players, fans and media across Europe regarding Catalonia’s future.
The Pique saga comes just weeks after treatment of West Bromwich Albion’s James McClean during the first Premier League match of the season against Manchester City made me cringe. McClean has no doubt been provocative about his views regarding Irish nationalism and events such as Bloody Sunday in hometown of Derry. But his every touch in the first half of that game was booed by both sets of supporters, and manager Tony Pulis withdrew the player at halftime. The reason might have been tactical as the Baggies were down 2-0, but the crowd reaction to McClean probably made it an easier decision.
McClean has long been open about his feelings, refusing to wear a poppy on his kit while at Sunderland and Wigan. This summer on a tour of the United States, McClean turned his back during the playing of “God Save the Queen.”
The lack of maturity of supporters on these issues is matched by some in the media. Sky Sports Alan Parry essentially trolled McClean during the broadcast of the Manchester City match by referring to him as “McClean, the Northern Irish man from Londonderry.” Those who are unfamiliar with the sensitivities of the Irish conflict may not realize that calling an Irishman “Northern Irish” and Derry “Londonderry” are about as subtly provocative as possible. Parry’s reference to McClean as such at the very time his own supporters were booing him was pouring fuel on the fire.
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As Western Europe moves into a new paradigm, re-tribalism is sweeping places like United Kingdom and Spain. It can be argued that, stripped of their former colonial empires, the Castilians and English have taken a hard line toward those peoples they have historically ruled over within the domains they rule.
Regardless of where you come down on these political issues, the growing trend toward hardline nationalism in stadiums, stifling the abilities of individual players like Pique and McClean to express themselves freely based on their own culture and experiences, is worrying. Both the Spanish and British authorities should be working to crack down on such unfortunate shows of disrespect from fans and, in the case of Parry, the media.
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