Following their club’s 1-1 draw at Paris Saint-Germain, a group of Chelsea fans on the Paris subway blocked a black man’s entry to their train, singing “We’re racist, and that’s the way we like it” as one onlooker filmed the confrontation. The video, embedded above, appeared this evening on The Guardian’s website.
Here’s the easy take: Chelsea fans should be condemned. Racism in English soccer is no less prevalent than anywhere else, it’s just swept under the rug more dilligently by the media, fans and league officials. This happens every week in London and Manchester, it just so happens that someone happened to catch this instance of racism on camera.
OK. Sure. So what, now?
Here’s the reality: Without exception, every club on the planet has its segment of horrible people. Where there are humans, there is horribleness. Where humans congregate in the name of testosterone and alcohol, that horribleness is amplified. Pointing a finger at Chelsea fans or using this video as an excuse to condemn English soccer is shortsighted and accomplishes absolutely nothing. That’s not to excuse the behavior of these fans, obviously, but this can be an opportunity to look beyond specific moments and do something to alter the bigger pictiure.
If people’s outrage over being directly confronted with such an ugly scene is real, they should let it mean something. Eventually, the identities of these Chelsea fans will be discovered, and we’ll read a press release about their punishment within a week. Chelsea won’t allow their brand to take this kind of a hit without a strong response. As cold and business-like as it may sound — we’d all prefer to believe that punishments would be levvied out of a clubs genuine desire to foster a positive environment for its customers — a reaction from a club for the sake of public relations can still be an instrument of change. Fans can work within the system that’s in place rather than wait for the idealized version of their dreams to appear.
If fans want to see these people eliminated from the game’s culture, they can let this video start a new wave of self-policing. Instead of calling out instances of unjust behavior across the globe, turn the gaze of your phone’s camera onto the rotten elements at your club (or franchise, or gathering of “Outlaws”; we’re not quite as exempt from this in American soccer as we like to pretend to be).
Show the rest of the soccer world that while your team’s support is far from perfect, there are men and women among you that will accept nothing less than equality and settings where all fans looking to kiss the same badge are worthy of respect. We can all clean up our own houses instead of worrying about everyone else’s. The fights against racism or sexism or any issue we all embrace shouldn’t devolve into contests where we’re just keeping score and congratulating ourselves when the team we love comes out with the fewest marks against us.
People are flawed, and we’re even worse to each other when we get in groups. Certain problems in supporter culture will never be completely eliminated, but strides can be made if we “think globally, act locally.” Instead of marveling at this video, make one of your own, and don’t act like you’ve never seen something like this yourself.