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Racism has no space in sport

Last Sunday’s football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid CF was unfortunately marred by an unwelcome racism incident involving Real Madrid’s winger Vinícius Júnior being targeted by vile racist chants from a handful of Valencia’s supporters.

This incident was not the first of its kind to occur, and sadly will most certainly not be the last. Racism has unfortunately been let to cripple in swiftly in many types of sports, leading to some sportspersons becoming distraught by such incidents, even having an effect on their overall performance.

Whilst sports authorities have been attempting to address this peril, unfortunately, most of the efforts have been weak, often leading to similar incidents occurring soon after and the perpetrators going largely unpunished.

Of late, sports authorities are attempting to tackle this issue with a harder stance, mainly owing to the external pressure that they face when such incidents occur.

However, the desired effects have not materialised fully, often a time with match officials not abandoning the match in question and players continuing to play despite the distraught of their team-mate/opponent.

In an effort to try and combat this unwelcome menace in the sports industry, the Council of Europe has brought into force the Saint-Denis Convention, which, amongst other matters, establishes principles and standards to combat racism, hate speech and hate crime in and around sports events and promotes the inclusion of all spectators.

In addition, the Sport Division is implementing a project “Combating Hate Speech in Sport”, which aims to provide technical assistance to public authorities in the countries concerned and to support stakeholders to develop coherent strategies to combat hate speech in sports, while respecting human rights.

The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has also issued numerous recommendations for Member States of the European Union to take on board.

The aim of such recommendations is to ensure and encourage equal opportunities in access to sports for all, as well as to combat racism and racial discrimination within sports, with Member States being encouraged to take the lead to build and lead coalitions against racism in sports by involving all key stakeholders, such as sports organisations, athletes and minority group representatives.

Member States are encouraged to enact and implement anti-discrimination legislation ensuring access to sports for all and penalising racist acts. Should a racist act occur, sports clubs and/or federations should be held responsible for such acts committed during the sports events concerned, as well as the culprit/s involved.

Naturally, such type of punishment should be the imposition of a fine, which will undoubtedly affect the financial position of a club or federation or individual, as well as life time bans from attending sport events.

The second recommendation by the ECRI to Member States is to build coalitions against racism in sports.

Here, a national framework agreement, outlining the tasks and responsibilities of each actor, should be drawn up and updated as the need arises.

Athletes and coaches should be reminded to abstain from racist behaviour in all circumstances. At the same time, all actors should promote exchanges of good practices through the creation of a good practice award for combating racism and racial discrimination in sports which can have a positive effect on kicking out racism in sports.

The third recommendation is for the police force and the judiciary to be well trained in order for racism incidents to be identified (including the culprits) and for such incidents to be dealt with in a prompt and effective manner. Anyone found guilty of a racism incident should be handed out harsh punishment, sending a strong message to society that such kind of incidents is not welcome within the sports industry and society in general.

The fourth and final recommendation is for Member States to raise awareness of racism and racial discrimination in sports.

Member States should organise and finance large-scale anti-racism awareness-raising campaigns in sport at all levels, including at grassroots level, involving all relevant actors. At the same time, the media is also encouraged to report on racist incidents taking place during sports events and to give publicity to sanctions that are incurred by the racist offenders.

In order to be as effective as possible in stamping out racism in sports, there is a need for a united approach to be adopted across the globe and across all types of sports.

Those sportspersons who either have power (such as match officials) or influence (such as athletes), also have a key role to play when such racist acts occur by either abandoning the match or walking off the pitch and refusing to play.

Sports has a unifying power in bringing people together.

Together racism can be kicked out!

Dr. Robert Dingli is a sports lawyer and Senior Associate at Dingli & Dingli Law Firm

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