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How The European Super League Response Highlights Football’s Race Problem.

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

European Super League [Image Source: Evening Standard]
European Super League [Image Source: Evening Standard]

If you listened to Gary Neville’s impassioned condemnation of the proposed European Super League on Sunday, you couldn’t help but be persuaded that the notion of a breakaway competition was a complete affront to the sport of football.

After all, the history of football on these shores remains inextricably linked with regions and communities where individual clubs were formed, while the sport itself was conceived to be a free and accessible form of entertainment for the working class.

This has changed over the years, of course, particularly since the formation of the Premier League and the gradual creep of foreign investment on these shores.

However, there’s no doubt that the rich history of clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester United helps to maintain a strong and immutable bond between players and the fans, with this having sustained these cities through some difficult times during the last 60 years or more.

As Neville called for fans to set aside tribal functions and mobilise in opposition to the league, we also saw protests outside Elland Road ahead of Liverpool’s clash with Leeds United.

Similarly, ex-pros and managers vociferously criticised the competition and everything it stood for, creating a united front in the face of the news.

Make no mistake; the reaction was both sustained and relentless, while it shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room

There’s good reason for this reaction, of course, with the grotesque idea of a non-competitive and inaccessible Super League driven purely by greed and likely to do untold damage to the lower echelons of England’s football pyramid.

However, if we cast our mind back 10 days or so, we can remember an horrific incident when Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara was racially abused by Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela during a Europa League clash.

The slur was heard by at least one other Rangers player, while Kamara’s spontaneous and emotive response left few in any doubt about precisely what had happened.

Of course, chaos and token condemnation followed, as did the depressingly inevitable denial of any wrongdoing from the Slavia Prague camp.

Not only this, but UEFA’s own mealy-mouthed response and the imposition of a 10-game ban for Kudela (the bare minimum for racial abuse) was in stark contrast to their condemnation of the European Super League, which was littered with emotional language and threats to expel any club that signed up to the new competition.

We must also remember that Kamara’s experience isn’t an isolated one, with the man himself having said that he receives similar abuse online every day.

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Wilfried Zaha have suffered sustained abuse on social media platforms such as Instagram. [Getty]
Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Wilfried Zaha have suffered sustained abuse on social media platforms such as Instagram. [Getty]

Other high-profile players such as Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Wilfried Zaha have also reported suffering sustained abuse on social media platforms such as Instagram, with this representing a growing and worrying stain on the fabric of international football.

However, each incidence seemingly fails to generate the type of impassioned response witnessed during the last couple of days, with players (such as Thierry Henry) taking action into their own hands by removing themselves from social media platforms.

So, Where’s the Mobilisation Against Racism?

The difference in the response of the governing bodies to these individual challenges has been painfully stark, while even former players appear to have reserved their most ardent condemnation for the formation of a European Super League.

There’s certainly little talk of an urgent and organised mobilisation of fans and clubs against the threat of racism, nor is there any serious suggestion from authorities that the players and clubs that perpetuate (and condone) racial abuse should be banned indefinitely from lucrative competitions.

Instead, there’s the continuation of empty gestures, notional bans, and ultimately meaningless anti-racism campaigns, while instances of racial abuse continue to rise in line with changing societal and socio-economic conditions.

But why do UEFA and FIFA seem so motivated to curb a potential Super League, while appearing powerless to prevent or tackle racism in the sport?

The answer is arguably as obvious as it is depressing, as the proposed European Super League threatens to undermine the existing Champions League format and dramatically reduce the revenues generated through this tournament.

Currently, UEFA generates nearly £3 billion per annum from the sale of broadcasting and commercial rights to its tournaments, with the UCL accounting for the vast majority of the organisation's annual revenue.

So, the removal of clubs such as Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Liverpool from the Champions League will slash UEFA’s revenues and leave the entire future of the tournament in doubt, particularly in its existing form.

Sadly, this explains why tackling and eradicating racism from the game holds no such urgency from the perspective of footballing bodies, with the sport’s preoccupation with revenue and earnings having long removed its focus from the fundamental and more important aspects of the game.

From a cynical perspective, you could also argue that Sky TV’s forthright opposition to the ESL is driven by greed, as there’s no doubt that the organisation’s lucrative broadcasting agreement with the Premier League will be hugely undermined if clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool are ejected.

The Last Word

Similarly, we’ve seen very little government intervention relating to rising instances of racist abuse in the English and European game, and yet Boris Johnson chose to chair an emerging meeting between football bosses and fans over the prospect of a European Super League.

The PM has also pledged to take whatever action is required to safeguard English teams and football’s pyramid structure, with this stance supported by MPs and the cabinet as a whole.

This represents an incredible intervention and one that unintentionally highlights the underlying lack of willingness and motivation to adopt a similarly no-tolerance approach to racism in our national sport.

Obviously, we should recognise the potential dangers of a closed European Super League, especially given its impact on the competitive nature of football and the folly of the so-called ‘trickle-down economics’ in-play here.

However, this danger pales into insignificance when compared to the harm caused by racism, and it would be nice to see UEFA and similar bodies take a similarly hardline approach to tackle this never-ending issue.

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