An underlying racism and violence


Tristan de Bourbon Correspondent in London

On the occasion of the European Football Championship final between England and Italy, racism and violence made a resounding return to the international sporting scene. Viewers and journalists were shocked to see unusual footage in a major competition: thousands of drunken fans dead leaving mountains of rubbish around Wembley Stadium and a group of ticketless people forcing their way into the sports arena. All followed by racist attacks against the perpetrators of the missed penalties by the England team, all three from ethnic minorities. In the eyes of the world, hooliganism had just made a comeback in English football.

The problem of this perception is undoubtedly linked to a single word: return. Indeed, if racism and violence have disappeared from the Premier League, the showcase of English football, they have never left English football. « Clubs and football authorities have long considered hooliganism to be a social problem disconnected from football », explains John Williams, a sociologist at the University of Leicester specializing in hooliganism. « The creation of the Premier League by the Sky channel in the early 1990s changed this approach: the Premier League had to become commercially attractive. Violence therefore had to disappear from the screens. »

Obligation to have a specific seat, which made it impossible for supporters to meet by affinity, deployment of surveillance cameras in stadiums and impressive police or security forces, price hikes to keep young people out, ban on get a ticket for an away match without being a subscriber: many springs have been used to change the composition of the supporters of the elite of English football.

This very expensive groundwork was not carried out on the lower divisions. « They are much more free, much less regulated, much less supervised, continues John Williams. The violence therefore persists. And so I am surprised that the police and the authorities were surprised, because everything was in place for excesses: it was the first big final for the England team in 55 years, the match was late, not to mention that the the fact that the stadium was not full gave those who entered illegally the opportunity to find a seat and therefore disappear. « 

Discreet racism in the Premier League

As for racism in football? He persists in the Premier League, although he is more discreet. « Racism is present in the media and reverberates in the population », says Paul Campbell, a sociologist at the University of Leicester. When the popular press talks about money and footballers, black player Marcus Rashford is criticized for his lavish spending and ostentatious demeanor, while White Phil Foden is described as a boy with his local roots who buys a house to provide good accommodation for his family. « 

Difference in treatment

More broadly, the sociologist and his colleagues analyzed the comments of BBC and ITV television journalists during twenty of the 2018 World Cup matches. The difference in treatment is obvious: « 70% of positive comments about black players were about their physical ability, 10% about their natural abilities, 10% about their training and learning abilities. For white players, 50% were about learning, 18% their physical strength and 8% their natural aptitudes. « 

What to broadcast clichés, which participate in this inglorious perception of players from ethnic minorities.

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