Debate: After Berlusconi Jnr used a racial slur to describe Mario Balotelli, is deducting points the best way to tackle racism in football?


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The Independent Online


What's going on?

Mario Balotelli is at the centre of a racism storm in Italy, having just signed for AC Milan. The former Manchester City striker was described as "negretto di famiglia" - translated as "the family's little n****", by the Milan vice-president Paolo Berlusconi, younger brother of the club president and former Italian prime minister Silvio.

The remark follows a turbulent period for AC Milan, whose players walked off the pitch in a friendly match after midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng was racially abused by sections of the crowd.

Many consider the current measures to tackle racism in football (mainly small financial penalties) unfit for purpose. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said recently the only solution was “to be very harsh with the sanctions – and the sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar."

Case for: Hit Hard

Consider this. In 2012 UEFA - European football's organising body - fined Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner £80,000 for wearing promotional boxer-shorts. In the same year they fined Porto not even a quarter of that sum for monkey chants (aimed at Balotelli). Two things: first, the disparity in punishment is sickening. Second, these fines are so piffling as to have no effect whatsoever. Football needs to respond in the strongest way possible to racism, and that means hitting teams where it hurts: their points tally. Leaving it to players to walk off the pitch shows an abject failure of leadership and puts the onus for change on those being abused, not those (mainly white men) who sit in power at the top of the game.

Case against: Fans not players

Racism in football is a problem, a massive one, but it stems primarily from supporters - not the players themselves (John Terry's case can be counted as an exception). Can you really sanction punishment to a team - who nine times out of ten won't be the guilty party - for the troglodyte behaviour of certain sections of their fans? And wouldn't such intervention encourage fans to try and get other teams deducted points through acts of sabotage? This intervention has sound principle behind it, but little practical sense. We should increase the fines, and look for other, more realistic options.