Once again, the international break is upon us, which gives us a chance to catch our breath and take inventory of our racism. That’s right, it’s time for the Racism Power Rankings, your periodic update on who’s hot, who’s not, and who could do a little better by being more focused on their racism practice.
Last time, Russia took the gold, silver, bronze, aluminum, and tin medals, sweeping all of the racism categories, which must have made Vladimir Putin proud. This time, the Russians have competition.
Let’s get to it.
The fun starts over in Italy, where FIFA banned Italy’s FA president Carlo Tavecchio from holding any official position with FIFA for six months for making racist remarks.
Back in August, when Tavecchio was campaigning to be the head of Italy’s FA, he made up a fictional African player named “Opti Poba,” and then proceeded to abuse said fake African player.
The proverbial hammer came down on Tavecchio for saying, “In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play. Here instead we get ‘Opti Poba,’ who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio.”
Impressive stuff. He should be applauded for trying to find a racism loophole by creating an African strawman who, hilariously, plays for Lazio, a club whose fans have a history of, let’s say, not exactly embracing those of a browner persuasion.
Even more hilarious, Tavecchio won the election, with 63.63 percent of 274 delegate votes.
The Italian FA cleared Tavecchio of the racism charges, and then FIFA still proceeded to ban him for six months. That’s right, FIFA out-moral-authoritied the Italian FA. Thus, a spot on the Racism Power Rankings.
4) France (Bordeaux)
France has a long history of being excellent at racism. From Charles De Gaulle to the Le Pen family, from Marseille to the Congo, there are some really exceptional episodes of proud ignorance. And so much of that history was wonderfully captured by Bordeaux manager and former France international Willy Sagnol. Let’s go straight to the game tape:
“As long as I remain coach of Bordeaux there will be far fewer African players coming to Girondins de Bordeaux, because I don’t fancy seeing 12 players clearing off for two months every two years.
So far, not awful. But, yes, he continues:
“These are criteria to take into account when it comes to signing players.
“The advantage of what I would call the typical African player is that they are cheap, ready to fight, always what you would call powerful on the pitch.
“But football is not just about that, it is about technique, intelligence, discipline, so you need everything.
“The Nordics as well, the Nordics are good. They have a good mentality. A football team is a mixture, it’s like life, it’s like France. You have defenders, attackers, midfielders, fast ones, big ones, small ones and technical ones.”
Got it? Good.
And then came the form follow-up from Bordeaux president Jean-Louis Triaud.
“Willy Sagnol is anything but racist. The interpretation of his words is completely wrong. He is straight-talking and a man of action.
“African players arrive in France at a very young age. They obviously work hard physically but they lack a tactical level, tactical intelligence.
“We are not talking about the IQ of these players, but intelligence of the game. It has absolutely nothing to do with their IQ or ability as athletes.”
I’m not even going to explain the racism here. Just note that it would be easier to explain what parts aren’t racist. But I will say this: There’s a pattern. Person is accused of saying something racist; someone responds by saying that the accused isn’t a racist. Those two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Now excuse me while I catch my breath.
OK, I’m back. Let’s continue …
3) Russia (FC Rostov)
Hey, Russia, I see you trying to sneak out of the room. Get back in here.
Let’s start with a basic question that all top managers should know the answer to: How many is enough dark-skinned players? Twelve? Five? One?
Igor Gamula, the possibly articulate coach of Russian Premier League team FC Rostov, believes that answer is six. Six is “enough dark-skinned players.” Yes, that’s how many dark-skinned players are in FC Rostov’s first team. You may want to jot that down for future use if you have dreams of becoming an elite manager in the Russian Premier League. You can see one of those dark-skinned players — Moussa Doumbia, who you’ll meet in the next paragraph — in the photo above.
Now, Gamula doesn’t just stop at dark-skinned quotas. He also jokingly added that one of his players, 20-year-old Malian international Doumbia, may be responsible for other illnesses in the team, because of, you know, EBOLA. Get it? Because he’s African, and recent reports suggest that Mali may be in Africa. Yeah, EBOLA. Maybe that’s why he’s so blurry in the photo.
Anyway, all of this raises another question: How many dumb people can say enough racist things in one sport, in one country, in one calendar year, and still host a World Cup? The answer: way more than six.
2) Scotland (Celtic)
Back in September, Celtic’s Aleksandar Tonev (on loan from Aston Villa) was accused of calling Aberdeen’s Shay Logan a “black cunt” during a match between the two clubs at Parkhead.
Celtic stuck by its man, with a spokesman saying, in part: “This was a very unfortunate case, but the Club has accepted Aleksandar’s explanation that he did not say the words that were alleged to have been said and that he is not a racist.”
Now, without question, we’re in he-said-she-said. But that’s the case in 99 percent of the cases where someone is accused of committing racial abuse on the field. In fact, incidents of racial abuse aren’t even particularly shocking anymore; what’s more shocking is the fact that, in almost every incident, the accused denies doing anything wrong. Almost always. In fact, I can’t ever recall a moment when someone wasn’t caught red-handed and admitted to using a racial slur.
The Scottish Football Association’s disciplinary tribunal found Tonev guilty of using “offensive, insulting and abusive language of a racist nature” and handed him a seven-game ban, which Celtic plans on appealing.
So where does that leave us?
That leaves us with a case where Celtic decided to back their asset in a classic he-said-she-said matter. But it goes a step further. A Celtic spokesman said that they’ve accepted that Tostov “is not a racist.” And here, once again, we have our Bordeaux problem: Tonev wasn’t charged with being a racist; he was charged with racial abuse.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell. Again. The least racist person in the world who, perhaps in a moment of anger, says something racist on the field to another player, is guilty of racial abuse, regardless of his or her past pristine civil rights record. Similarly, just because someone said several racial slurs in the past, doesn’t mean they racially abused the next person they’ve been accused of abusing. But for Celtic to include that tidbit — that Tostov isn’t racist — in its official statement is either purposely misleading or embarrassingly negligent, because it confuses the issue: someone with generally non-racist leanings can still commit racial abuse, and someone with racist leanings can not say racist things.
When it comes to clubs providing official words and backing players, as Liverpool, Chelsea, and so many others have done in the past, it’s come to a point where it’s hard to give any weight to their word on these matters. They all know the right language when it comes to platitudes about zero tolerance, but when push comes to shove, all we regularly see is clubs that back player after player, not simply by giving them the benefit of the doubt, but by emphatically declaring subjective observations about someone’s character that have little to do with fleshing out what happened in a given moment.
1) Italy AGAIN
Not you again, Italy.
That’s newish Inter Milan president Erick Thohir — also president of MLS’s D.C. United — presumably trying to catch all of the racism that’s been thrown at him in Italy. As you can see, while he’s still well-put together, he seems to be struggling to wrap his hands around all that slippery racism that people “didn’t mean like that.”
Last month, Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero referred to Thohir as “that Filipino” in a RAI interview, despite Thohir clearly being Indonesian. Ferrero later apologized, saying he was trying to praise former Inter president Massimo Moratti. Ferrero is now facing a disciplinary hearing before the Italian FA. There have been no updates as to whether he’s figured out the distinction between Indonesia and the Philippines.
But wait, there’s more! Former president of the 2006 Turin Olympics Organizing Committee, Evelina Christillin, knows that Thohir is Indonesian. We know that because she recently called Thohir a “fat, little Indonesian” (and “almond eyed”) in a Huffington Post article, before she changed the language to be more politically correct.
It’s amazing what people will say in public, right?
Honorable Mention: Twitter (people on it, not the company)